Cardinals Closer to Stadium Deal

Thu November 21, 2002 - National Edition

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The St. Louis Cardinals edged closer Friday, Nov. 15 to building a new stadium downtown, signing an agreement to pursue private financing for the project.

It would be only the second privately funded ballpark in recent years. Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco, which opened in 2000, was the other. Property Funding Group of Washington, D.C., will be responsible for obtaining the financing and structuring the plan.

Rick Gross, president of Property Funding Group, said he expects funding to be in place within six months. Plans call for the $325-million, 45,000-seat stadium to be ready by Opening Day 2006.

Cardinals President Mark Lamping did not rule out seeking limited public funding from St. Louis city and county, but said the state will not be asked to participate. State lawmakers earlier this year refused to sign onto a plan that would have provided $644 million over 30 years to stadiums in St. Louis and Kansas City.

The new ballpark would be built in a retro style — brick exterior, grass field, seats close to the field — with a view of the Gateway Arch towering over center field. Unlike the circular Busch Stadium — built as a multipurpose stadium that also was home to the NFL’s football Cardinals before they left in 1987 — the new ballpark will feature a mostly-open look in the outfield.

Amenities would include more restrooms and concessions, escalators and elevators, more seating for fans with disabilities and play areas for children. It would also feature 60 private suites.

The plan was initially proposed by Mayor Francis Slay after plans for the publicly financed stadium fell apart. It calls for private developers to build and own the stadium, then lease it to the Cardinals. The Cardinals would invest $50 million up front for construction and pay rent of approximately $14 million annually for the 29-year length of the lease. The team also would pay all ballpark operating, maintenance and capital improvement expenses.

"The best baseball fans deserve the best baseball facility and more importantly the best baseball team possible," said William DeWitt Jr., chairman of the group that owns the Cardinals.

Gross said developers will seek out large investors such as insurance firms and pension funds.

"This is a storied franchise and a great baseball town and we think the capital markets will respond enthusiastically," Gross said.

The Cardinals have long cited a need for a new stadium to replace Busch, which opened in 1966. Since the current ownership group purchased the Cardinals in 1995, they’ve spent millions of dollars to upgrade the stadium. Artificial turf was replaced with real grass, new seats were added along the field, a manual scoreboard was added.

But the stadium’s age is catching up with it, owners said. And, there is no room for additional luxury boxes — necessary, according to the Cardinals, to generate the kind of revenue needed for the team to remain competitive.