A softball field is better than nothing

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: In St. Louis today, fans will be packing into Busch Stadium to watch the 80th Major League Baseball All Star Game. One thing they won't be doing is eating and shopping at Ballpark Village. That's a downtown business and entertainment district that was
supposed to be finished by this all-important game. Adam Allington reports.


Adam Allington: If you stand next to Busch Stadium and look out at the future site of Ballpark Village, you'll see a freshly-paved parking lot and a brand new softball diamond.

Just how long this piece of prime downtown real estate will remain a softball field is an open question. These days, most St. Louisans share the opinion of Joe DeCiechi, who came down to buy Cardinals tickets.

Joe DeCiechi: Well, its better than what it was before. It was just a pit with water in it. It was nothing before, so this is better than nothing.

Ballpark Village sits on the site of the old Busch Stadium. The Cardinals moved to a new stadium across the street in 2006.

A $600 million retail and office development, the project's been touted as the best hope to bring people back to downtown St. Louis. Ballpark Village hit a snag last year when its biggest tenant backed out. Then the bond market collapsed, leaving the city and the Cardinals scrambling for a new source of funding. And not everyone thinks that's a bad thing.

Heywood Sanders: We've got former festival marketplaces and subsidized hotels and entertainment districts from one end of the country to the other that have absolutely gone bust.

That's Heywood Sanders, he's a professor of public administration at the University of Texas San Antonio. He points to Kansas City's newly completed Power and Light entertainment district.

Sanders: It hasn't it hasn't had the leasing activity that it was predicted to have. And now they're likely to pour more money into more things to try and keep that going.

Sanders says St. Louis already has an office vacancy rate more than 20 percent, and retail hasn't thrived downtown since the 50's.

For their part, both the Cardinals and the city say Ballpark Village will happen, they're just waiting for the bond market to improve and the state to sign off on a package of construction subsidies. Even Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has put his reputation on the line:

Jay Nixon: I am not going to end my tenure as governor with a softball field over the left field fence, OK. We aren't done.

And in a baseball-crazy town like St. Louis most fans probably pay more attention to Albert Pujols' than the empty lot across the street.

In St. Louis, I'm Adam Allington for Marketplace.

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