Work Begins on New $387M Redbirds Roost

Thu January 29, 2004 - Midwest Edition
Kathie Sutin

The crack of the bat and strains of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” won’t be the only sounds at Cardinal baseball games in St. Louis this season and next. Add the roar of earthmoving equipment, the whine of engines, the clatter of trucks and the loud warning beeps of backing construction vehicles.

Even before the season opener this year, work began on the Cardinals’ new stadium, which will be rising from the ground adjacent to Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis through two baseball seasons. The $325 million project — $387 million including land and financing costs — is the largest in St. Louis history.

Erecting a brand new stadium as games continue in the old is quite a feat, one that brings visions of snarled traffic and congested roadways. But John Loyd, the owner’s rep for the project, dispels any such notions even though an I-40/64 ramp already has been razed and some streets have been narrowed or closed.

Hunt Construction of Indianapolis, the contractor, will have everything under control, Loyd said, displaying a map with the construction site marked off and new routings for streets in the area.

“There will be a minor amount of access restriction for the next two years but there shouldn’t be a significant impact on the traffic at all,” he said. “Of course, we have about 600 parking spaces we’re eliminating in this bus lot where people have to find an alternate place but that’s about it.”

And Loyd said he doesn’t expect the construction to add to congestion downtown.

“The contractor has a site logistics plan worked out, a delivery plan and he’ll bring trucks into the site. They’ll be unloaded and drive back out. That’s all been worked out. We don’t store much onsite. It’s brought in as it’s needed on trucks, lifted off, put into place and the trucks go away,” he said.

Work on the project began Dec. 19 with the removal of a ramp from I-64/40. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) will construct a new ramp to the south of Highway 40. While the removal was a MoDOT project, the baseball club owners paid an incentive to have the bridge removed quickly so the rest of the project could get underway in time to maintain the schedule. Loyd declined to discuss the amount the owners paid calling it “a private business deal.”

“The ramp had to come down because we need the land underneath where that ramp is to complete our project,” he said.

Crews already have taken down a pedestrian bridge over Spruce Street from the parking lot to Busch Stadium. An access plan has been worked out for the upcoming season, Loyd said. New steps were constructed on the west side of the building to serve the people that would have approached from the south. Fans will have no problem entering and exiting Busch Stadium as the new stadium comes out of the ground this summer, he said.

Work was halted for a couple of hours in mid-January and hundreds of downtown workers were evacuated when a gas leak occurred at the site.

“That’s just one of those things that happens in the course of construction,” Loyd said. “We found a gas line where we didn’t expect it to be,” he said. “The line was broken by an excavator. It was quickly capped off by the gas company and that was that.”

Safety is a priority around the site, especially with ball games continuing in Busch Stadium for the next two seasons.

“To keep people from being put in harm’s way in the construction site, we’re completely fenced out here and we will be,” Loyd said. “The fences are maintained and there is security staff that will be there during the season to make sure people can’t wander into the site. The way we’ve provided for access to the ball park there’s really not any need for them to try to get in. The confines of Busch Stadium are not being touched at all.”

And construction noise at the stadium? Loyd doesn’t see it being a problem to the fans at the games.

“There will be some setting of precast concrete seating sections at night but that’s basically just crane noise,” he said. “It won’t be heard over the crowd noise. It won’t affect the game at all. Besides, our fans make a lot of noise and we don’t think they’re going to be affected by construction noise.”

Initially some concerns were raised that the highway so close would bring noise to the stadium but Loyd dispels that idea too.

“We had an environmental sound study done and the recommendations were that we apply some sound proofing material at two areas of the building — not the entire concourse — but two areas , which we’ll do,” he said. “Aside from that, we expect the fan noise to be louder than the highway noise and we’ll overpower it so we don’t expect that to be an issue.”

The sound proofing will be installed in the south side of the building which is next to the freeway in the main and loge concourses.

More than noise, the schedule is the biggest challenge facing the construction crew. They face an aggressive schedule to have the new stadium ready for opening day in April 2006.

With a compressed 28-month construction schedule, crews may be working around the clock on the project, Loyd said. “We’ve already planned the amount of overtime and shift work it’s going to take to get finished on time. There could be a period of time there where we run three shifts.”

Loyd says there’s no question that the project will be ready on time for the 2006 season. And, it if it isn’t?

“We’d have to evaluate our plans at the time it became apparent that we weren’t going to make it,” he said. “We are going to make it so that’s not something we’re planning right now.”

Baseball Legends Gather

ST. LOUIS (AP) If there had been a game scheduled Jan. 17, it would have been postponed by steady rain and 40-degree temperatures.

Instead, hundreds of fans attended groundbreaking ceremonies just outside Busch Stadium for the St. Louis Cardinals’ new stadium, due to open in 2006.

The ground was saturated by the end of the many speeches, introductions of Cardinals past and present and the harmonica playing of Hall of Famer Stan Musial, who led the crowd in a rendition of “Take me out to the ball game.”

“Better today,” team president Mark Lamping said, “than on opening day.” Work outside the $387-million stadium, which will have a capacity of 46,000 and will occupy virtually the same space, has been going on for about a month. That includes destruction of a highway ramp near Busch, which opened in 1966 and was home to two World Series championships and Mark McGwire’s record-setting 70th home run in 1998.

Manager Tony La Russa was among the dignitaries at the ceremony and he’s ready for a new facility, although last season he said he didn’t know if he’d still be around when it opens. Next month, La Russa will hold his ninth spring training with the team.

“It plays real well,” La Russa said of the aging Busch Stadium. “But underneath, more and more every year, there’s problems – leaks, smells and all kinds of nasty stuff. So it is time for a ballpark to be built.” Broadcaster Wayne Hagin was looking forward to working in the new stadium after viewing models and plans.

“It is going to be gorgeous,” Hagin said.

Civic boosters see the new ballpark as part of a renaissance in the city. On his way to the ceremony, Frank Viverito, president of the St. Louis Sports Commission, took note of the loft apartments being renovated in the immediate area.

“I’ve thought all along that its greatest success is being part of a downtown that’s actually, really, coming back,” Viverito said. “The timing for everything is really good.”

The ceremonies, capped by a fireworks display, came during the opening day of the team’s annual three-day Winter Warmup at a downtown hotel. Virtually all of the current players, along with stars from the past, have been in town for autograph signings that will raise money for Cardinal Care, the team’s charitable arm.