Busch Stadium: A fitting design for St. Louis

The Gateway Arch, one of the most unique examples of architecture in the world, sits just two blocks away from Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. While the Arch defines St. Louis for many, it’s the Cardinals that actually define its residents.

Designed by HOK Sport (now known as Populous) and debuting in 2006, it is certainly a welcome departure from the previous Busch Memorial Stadium, which was a design victim of the cookie-cutter design era. Looking back, the exterior was a far cry from what should have been suitable for St. Louis, and its interior closed fans off from its surroundings. Both of these issues have been solved with Busch Stadium, completed at a cost of around $350 million.

Due to its site location, construction of the new Busch Stadium was completed in phases, as parts of the stadium could not be built until the previous stadium was demolished. As the Cardinals neared the completion of their 2005 season, this was especially noticeable. While the southeast corner of the stadium had essentially been finished with seats in place, construction had not even begun on the northwest corner of the stadium, or its left and center field bleachers.

Since its completion, the stadium has seen four of the five highest season attendance totals in Cardinals history. The other occurred only in the final year of the previous stadium as fans flocked to its last games. Clearly, the new stadium has been welcomed by the passionate fan base and has led to record-breaking attendance numbers. It’s not surprising, as Busch is visually far more appealing both on the field and around it.

Busch Stadium retains a mostly red brick facade supplemented with steel trimming on its openings. The openings and windows that puncture the facade are visually reminiscent of the industrial past of St. Louis, where factories and breweries were commonplace. While some fans may wonder why a more modern design was not implemented, it is actually Busch Stadium’s connection with the architectural and cultural history of St. Louis that makes it so successful.

In this mold, the entry at Gate 3 on the west side of the stadium even plays tribute to the iconic Eads Bridge, which sits to the north of the Gateway Arch and crosses over the Mississippi River into Illinois.

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While the old stadium had given tribute to the Arch with its actual uppermost formwork, on which the stadium’s lights were fastened, the current stadium makes the actual Arch a visual component of the stadium’s most significant views. The Arch had been visible to some from the previous stadium, but not nearly as successfully as its successor, which is formally more appropriately aligned towards the outfield.

One of the greatest features of the new stadium is this open outfield design, where the field faces the outfield to maximize views of the Arch and skyline. The connection of the outfield entries and terraces to the streets immediately adjacent are likewise extremely successful. Additionally, the design of the outfield retained a look very similar to its predecessor. The dimensions of the fences, bright red seats, the grassy batter’s backdrop in center field, the bullpens, and even Mark McGwire’s “Big Mac Land” in the upper left field bleachers keep the classic look of what had become a beloved stadium.

Adjacent to the stadium on its north side is a large empty lot which in the future will serve as a supplementary ballpark village. Since Busch Memorial Stadium was served with a wrecking ball (as opposed to the now traditional method of demolition via implosion) after the 2005 season, the site has remained empty. Original plans for this property included both residential and entertainment complexes, along with various restaurants, boutiques and even some company headquarters.

It is believed that this will eventually be completed at some point, though recent developments have been minimal due to – what else – money. After all, the original plan was estimated to cost over $600 million dollars and occupy several city blocks. It would have, upon completion, accommodated at least 450,000 square feet of office space and 250,000 square feet for its other elements, not including the added parking spaces.

Its eventual completion would only prove beneficial to both the city of St. Louis and the Cardinals organization. At the present time, St. Louis is home to one of the least lively downtown areas of a city of its size in the country.

Busch Stadium is certainly beautiful on its own, however, and serves its fans and players as well as most stadiums in the country. While taking in a game, the view of the Arch and the nearby city buildings is nothing short of spectacular.

But other new stadiums (such as Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City) have placed an emphasis on the “full” experience, and Busch Stadium feels somewhat bare with its minimal offering of extracurricular activities. Other stadiums (such as Fenway Park or Wrigley Field) sit in the midst of a crowded neighborhood, creating a different yet equally successful complete experience for visiting fans. When Cardinals fans visit Busch, they cannot be happy there is no Ballpark Village sitting alongside it, as originally proposed.

The completion of the Ballpark Village in tandem with the draw that is the St. Louis Cardinals roster and their new stadium would have served the city well for decades. The city itself would have received an influx of both business and residents; the Ballpark Village could have served as a jumpstart into the 21st century that has otherwise been circumvented due to the recession. As it stands, a smaller design with a smaller budget (only $100 million dollars) has been approved as phase one of the project. Hopefully, plans for its expansion soon follow.

As it stands, Busch Stadium is still a must-see stadium. It’s an attraction that stands as appealing as any in St. Louis, alongside the Arch, the Budweiser brewery, riverfront casinos, riverboat tours, and Forest Park (the second largest park to only New York’s Central Park).

On the heels of the 4th of July holiday in the United States, it should be noted that not much can beat tickets to a night game where with a view of the Independence Day fireworks high above the St. Louis Arch. The city’s fireworks display is completely in view of most seats in the stadium. While the game itself is being played on the field, the simultaneous display goes on in the backdrop of night above the skyline.

Of the six years the stadium has existed, this has taken place three times and it serves as an example of how architectural design has evolved in Major League Baseball. Stadiums can be about more than seats, barriers, and clubhouse digs – they can also be about providing the opportunity for events such as these, taking into account views and surroundings. This is an element of design that the previous Busch Memorial Stadium and many across the country had never even considered in the past.

In tandem with its architecture, Busch Stadium is benefited by the passion of Cardinals fans throughout the city. The organization has united St. Louis area residents more than any other professional team in the city’s history, and the excitement is clearly visible at any home game.

The Cardinals won the World Series in their inaugural season at Busch Stadium, becoming the first team in over a hundred years to do so. With 10 championships over the course of its history – more than any other team in the National League – the Cardinals insist on a culture of winning that fans will be happy to witness at the new Busch Stadium for decades to come.

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-Jun. 29 – Kauffman Stadium: The Forgotten Midwestern Gem

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