While fans are excited about the arrival of Major League Soccer in St. Louis, the new stadium could be the beginning of a more vibrant sports-entertainment district in downtown.
The likely site of the MLS expansion team’s venue will be west of Union Station, just down the street from the Enterprise Center, where the Blues play, and Busch Stadium, home of the Cardinals. That will mean a roughly one-mile stretch boasting three professional sports venues, similar to districts in Pittsburgh and Detroit.
St. Louis Public Radio's Wayne Pratt spoke with Washington University Sports Business Program Director Patrick Rishe, who says there a couple of key reasons cities are creating such districts.
Patrick Rishe: Number one, if you put the buildings in the center of the city, you’re gonna hopefully stimulate additional development. A lot of cities in the last 20 years have decided that they want to redevelop their core. I think the second thing, just practically speaking, is that if the facilities are located downtown, you are more central to all of your local suburban areas and therefore people living north, south, east and west of downtown, it’s now equally easy for them to get to ballgames and hockey games and basketball games and so on and so forth.
Wayne Pratt: Is there one city in your mind that seems to really have gotten this right?
Rishe: I think if you look at the last 20 years, probably Indianapolis has done the best job of building these facilities, building up their downtown community overall, in part around their stadiums. Downtown Indianapolis did have the advantage of really not being much of a downtown 20-plus years ago, but by building the facilities they built, where they built them, building hotels and amenities, restaurants, shopping that people could do all in one place, I think you have to say and look back at history and say they got it right.
Pratt: And that's the strategy behind Ballpark Village, here in St. Louis?
Rishe: There's no question that Ballpark Village is a great entertainment amenity. And now, you've got an expansion of that where there's commercial, residential — this is not new. In Milwaukee, in Chicago, the two facilities there. Wrigley Field — the Cubs are profiting from that ancillary development. So when people are going to that hotel across the street from the stadium now or spending money at the bar and lounge, part of that money is going back to the Cubs.
In Milwaukee, they're in the second year of Fiserv Forum. A lot of the real estate just outside the facility is owned by the Bucks. And the reason why is they want to take advantage of the abilities to generate additional revenues to help subsidize the operation of the team.
If you create these entertainment districts, cities and communities themselves figure, well, if we have a district where there are facilities where people are milling about, 100, 150, 200 days a year, then we can try to capture some additional revenue generation for the city in terms of tax dollars, if other businesses now have the confidence to set up shop, thinking that they’ll be able to capture some of that overflow consumer spending.
Pratt: When you see how it’s going to possibly lay out in St. Louis when the MLS stadium gets built, is there anything in your research that could be a trap to look out for, when a plan like this is on the table?
Rishe: Are you going to have displacement?
I have not done a formal study, but as someone that has been around downtown St. Louis and walking downtown and biking downtown and seeing this area, there’s no question that Washington Avenue, for example, which is several blocks away from Ballpark Village, they have not seen as much economic activity since Ballpark Village went up. People simply substitute where they’re spending money, and that is the concern when they build the new soccer stadium.
And if there’s any entertainment district associated with that, and as Union Station expands and takes advantage of their new aquarium and other things that they’re going to try to do, again, is that going to attract a net increase in money spent downtown? Is there enough wealth and discretionary income in this region that it just increases the level of spending? Or does that siphon even more money away from money that was otherwise being spent at along Washington Avenue? And that’s a real interesting question.
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