Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

As Sports Grow, So Grows the Entire Downtown Area

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

As Sports Grow, So Grows the Entire Downtown Area

Article excerpt

Fans may fuel the modern sports industry, but big business drives it. Only the wealthiest individuals and most prosperous corporations can operate in the big leagues these days.

So the transformation of our sports community had to start at the top. Civic Progress, a cooperative venture among many of the area's top chief executive officers, has been instrumental in all the growth.

"Sports has become a very expensive undertaking, quite honestly," said Civic Progress member Andrew Craig, chairman and chief executive officer of Boatman's Bancshares, Inc. "Civic Progress recognized this some time ago."

It bankrolled the purchase of the Blues from Beverly Hills entrepreneur Harry Ornest in 1986, lobbied for the construction of the new football stadium, built the Kiel Center, tried to salvage the National Football League expansion bid and backed FANS Inc.'s effort to woo the Rams here.

Why the devotion to sports?

"I think it's very important to the entire development of downtown," Craig said. "It brings a lot of people, it brings a lot of revenue downtown. Being a banker, that's important.

"Success breed success. It inevitably attracts other things. It will likely bring the investment of another major hotel downtown and probably some new restaurants. It's not just sports. It's the whole downtown area that's been helped."

This new era began to dawn when then-mayor Vincent C. Schoemehl sought a local blue-chip investor group to buy the Blues.

Many of these same investors later ponied up to get the Kiel Center project rolling. Anheuser-Busch Cos. originally hoped to build an arena adjacent to Busch Stadium, but got tired of wrestling with Schoemehl for the Cupples Station property.

Civic Progress stepped in and got Kiel Center built. Now a Blues franchise that nearly left for Saskatchewan in 1983 is generating $1.2 million in direct revenues per game for the city.

"A lot of people criticized my administration for spending so much time and money on sports franchises," Schoemehl said. "If I had one, I had 10,000 people tell me I was crazy for having the city buy the Arena and helping save the Blues."

So why did he do it? …

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