Bill DeWitt III is a golfer and president of the St. Louis Cardinals, not a football man, but that is not why his pronouncement that the Ballpark Village project “is on the one-yard line” was met by more than one skeptical face in a packed audience of attendees at Monday’s Winter Warm-Up.
By now, most observers have lost track of the number of delays Ballpark Village has incurred since it was first celebrated as having been finalized in 2008. The vastly scaled-down project has been hampered by grand plans that became unrealistic during an economic downturn.
Yet, in what would have been the first time in the long history of the development adjacent to Busch Stadium, it appeared in 2012 that a key date prediction might actually be met.
Last January, DeWitt III, son of team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., said he expected construction to begin later that year. In September, what was reported to be the final hurdle was cleared when the State of Missouri approved tax credits for the project.
Via press release, the Cardinals announced a mid-November groundbreaking with construction to begin immediately after.
Not so fast! Like so many times before, the date came and went.
On Monday, the team president did not explain what scuttled the November plans. He preferred to focus on the future, rather than dwell on the past. Yet his remarks made it clear the recent delays were in-house-driven.
DeWitt III disclosed plans to travel to the home of Super Bowl participant Baltimore on Tuesday, to, in his words, “try to close the deal.” The Maryland city is the home of the project’s developer, the Cordish Company.
No longer touting a project start date, DeWitt’s stated target is its completion date - spring 2014. That is the planned opening of the two-block first phase of what originally was a 10-acre development.
The focal point of phase one will be a covered, conditioned plaza with a removable glass roof. A large LED screen will entertain up to 2,000 people for events.
The first phase facility will feature four major tenants, DeWitt said, but in a telling indicator of a project supposedly so close to reality, he would disclose only two of its four anchors.
The first is Cardinals Nation, to be operated by the club. It will hold a restaurant, the team Hall of Fame and Museum, as well as a third-floor multipurpose facility which DeWitt III likens to the Wrigley Field rooftops in Chicago. This ticketed area of 340 seats will feature all-inclusive services and a view into Busch Stadium from beyond left-center field.
In addition to developing construction projects, Cordish is an entertainment operating company as well. That is relevant to the second anchor, the Budweiser Brew House.
While InBev has provided its flagship brand name to the Brew House, it is through a licensing and sponsorship deal, similar to other like-named facilities around the country. It was announced this past summer that the Cardinals and Cordish will share the ownership of the Brew House. De Witt III indicated that Cordish will operate it.
In other words, the only companies announced to be a part of phase one with an apparent major financial investment are the Cardinals themselves and Cordish. Based on DeWitt III's remarks, it seems even they are not in complete sync yet.
While plans beyond the initial phase were noted to be dependent on an improved economy, DeWitt III did indicate that the “infrastructure subsidies” secured cover the entire project. That means no governmental approvals would be required for Ballpark Village to proceed beyond its initial phase.
The overall appearance of the area will be addressed in the near term. The old Bowling Hall of Fame building will be demolished and the “surrounding area will be cleaned up” as part of the initial construction, DeWitt III explained.
Pigskin fans know their season will be ending in less than two weeks. It remains to be seen whether DeWitt III can score from the self-proclaimed one-yard line and finally move Ballpark Village from its history of disappointments into the end-zone of reality.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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