Cheap Seats

Will the scaled down Ballpark Village keep Cardinals competitive?

The Cardinals say it’s for real this time.

Ballpark Village -- albeit a scaled down version without many of the bells and whistles St. Louis area residents were promised -- has the green light and is ready to break ground.

Sure, it sounds like a lot of fun: A fan friendly area where people can socialize and soak in the atmosphere before and after games. It could be a nice option for a quick pre-game dinner when there are weeknight games and time is tight for fans to get home from work and then to Busch Stadium. And it will probably be hopping when the big events happen like opening day and the playoffs roll around.

But, personally, I got over the initial hype for those sorts of things years ago.

When the plans for the area -- which was to include not only bars, restaurants and the Cardinals hall of fame but also residential condominiums and corporate office space -- were hatched, I was seven or eight years younger and I didn't have kids. Now, as an older, settled down dad, I am actually more interested in the convenient parking spots in the empty lot currently located on the site where Ballpark Village is expected to rise than I am in a pre-game — or a post-game — party spot. 

So, what I really want out of the deal at this point, is something that will make enhance the Redbirds' ability to be competitive on the field. And I wonder if the scaled down plans for the development are enough to realize that original vision.

When the owners of the Cardinals pitched the idea for a new stadium nearly a decade ago, they said the ballpark and the associated ballpark village development would position them to be competitive in a way they could no longer be with the older -- but paid off -- Busch Stadium II.

Since the new stadium was unveiled, the payroll has been relatively flat. It was $92.1 million the last year in the old ballpark, 2005. In the first four years in the new ballpark, the average Cardinals payroll was $92.75 million. The ballpark that was supposed to open the payroll pipeline did just the opposite. And owners claimed they had less money than they did before because now they had to pay for the brand new stadium that all us fans wanted so badly.

The Cardinals have opened up the pocketbook over the last two seasons with an average payroll of slightly more than $110 million. But with major market teams getting ridiculous local television contracts these days, the St. Louis nine need every revenue faucet they can find. I get that. I just hope this missing component of the original stadium dream that the owners — not the fans — wanted so badly.

The question seems to no longer be whether the Cardinals will get Ballpark Village built. Instead it has become “Will the scaled down ballpark village give the Birds the financial ability to stay in the game?”

I’d have to imagine that replacing high rent corporate digs and fancy condos with bars is far less lucrative. And once the long-term leases are signed and buildings are constructed, it’s going to make it even tougher to make the original vision a reality. I doubt the Cardinals will tear down buildings to build new ones when it took them so much effort to get the original structures financed and built.

While I no longer care about hanging out in bars and restaurants outside the ballpark, I really hope this project becomes a success. Because I do still care very much about keeping the post season appearances and World Series bling flowing.

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