Ballpark Village or Urban Wasteland: Rhetorical Invention, Civic Ego, and the St. Louis Cardinals' Controversial New Home

By Ponder, Benjamin | Nine, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Ballpark Village or Urban Wasteland: Rhetorical Invention, Civic Ego, and the St. Louis Cardinals' Controversial New Home


Ponder, Benjamin, Nine


OUT WITH THE NEW, IN WITH THE OLD

Tickled by the charm and success of Camden Yards in 1992, Major League baseball clubs have spent the last decade demolishing their old, "modern" stadiums and constructing new, "old-fashioned" ballparks for their teams. Some of these old stadiums were multipurpose mammoths, ill-fitted for any of the several sports and events they hosted. Other stadiums were simply too old. Structural problems, often with dubious technical substantiation, were cited as the cause for their inevitable demise. Certainly, Olympic Stadium in Montreal, with its falling concrete and cosmic vastness, exemplifies both of these architectural justifications--but, unlike the Expos, it is not slated for demolition.

By contrast the St. Louis Cardinals are already lining up the wrecking balls for Busch Stadium. Opened in 1966 it was called by architect Harris Armstrong "the first American sports stadium that looks like architecture." Harris added: "It has the three essentials: clarity, simplicity, and honesty, and it is in these three that its beauty lies." (1) Built in an era of Epcot visions of the future, Busch Stadium resembles a circular wedding cake with an arched fringe along its roofline (to evoke and complement the Gateway Arch). Aesthetically, it belongs to the bygone era of modernist architecture, but it is recognized as one of the best stadiums of its time. Over the years Busch has been well-maintained, and it currently has no serious structural issues. The Cardinals consistently draw over 3 million fans a year to the stadium, so team owners cannot employ the argument that a trendy, new stadium will attract more fans--fan loyalty and attendance figures are not a problem in St. Louis. Busch Stadium is not an eyesore, nor is it dilapidated in any way. Why, then, is it being replaced?

PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE AND THE NEED FOR RHETORICAL INVENTION

Interestingly, as noted by St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Bernie Miklasz, no case ever was made that a new stadium was needed. (2) The Cardinals never made an issue of Busch Stadium's structural inadequacy, aesthetics, seating capacity, or poor location--in fact, from this list, the aesthetics are the only aspect of the stadium that will change significantly. The main difference between Busch Stadium and the new ballpark will be the luxuriousness of the luxury boxes. The new ballpark will actually have ten fewer luxury boxes than Busch Stadium's seventy, but owners claim that the boxes will be much nicer and, therefore, command a steeper price than the current boxes.

With characteristic obtuseness, Cardinals president Mark Lamping asserted: "The economics of staying in an aging Busch Stadium demand that we act now." (3) Claims that the stadium was "becoming obsolete" were sometimes tied to the need to "generate extra revenue and help the team compete with richer rivals." (4) Associating luxury boxes and extra revenue to competitiveness, however, became a rhetorical liability for the owners when the matter of financing the new ballpark inevitably arose. Public resentment was stoked by groups such as the Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums, and public opinion polls showed strong disfavor for public financing of a new ballpark that would stereotypically amount to taxpayer subsidies for the wealthy. Since the standard stadium-building arguments rang hollow, Cardinals management and their political supporters had to develop a new argument.

BALLPARK VILLAGE

Modeled after similar efforts in San Diego and ultimately mimicking the Wrigleyville neighborhood in Chicago, architects, developers, and the Cardinals' owners developed the idea of the Ballpark Village: a development adjacent to the new ballpark consisting of mixed-use retail, office, and residential space. With the advent of the Ballpark Village concept, the center of the discourse shifted from a spotlight on revenues and luxury boxes--inside the stadium--to the contribution the new ballpark would make toward the overall revitalization of downtown St. …

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