LHM Seeks Major League Soccer Stadium as Part of New Vision for Union Station in St. Louis

mls at union station
{initial site study by ICON Venue Group}

Lodging Hospitality Management is scheduled to close on their $20M purchase of the historic 1894 St. Louis Union Station today and they're not wasting any time thinking big. According to nextSTL sources, LHM is proceeding with extensive efforts to shoehorn a Major League Soccer stadium into the station site. The Post-Dispatch first reported that LHM, based at Westport Plaza, is thinking beyond reducing retail, expanding meeting space and rebranding the Marriott hotel to a Hilton Double Tree. LHM is hoping to return private train service to the station and add a transportation museum. The PD called it "the centerpiece of LHM's plan." But it's clear that LHM is thinking much bigger. The new owners seem to understand that the revitalization of Union Station will require more than a rebranded hotel and a museum.

Early planning images show an ~20,000 seat soccer-specific stadium located between the train shed and I-64, though this is far from the only option. MLS stadiums of that size have cost between $60-100M to build over the past half dozen years. The stadium plan would also include office, some retail and possibly a residential component. If completed, the MLS stadium would provide the third major league sports venue on just 3/4 of a mile of Clark Street in downtown St. Louis. Although planning remains in the early stages, the vision has received interest from local tenants and some from outside the region.

Efforts to bring an MLS team to soccer-rich St. Louis have so far fallen well short. From Collinsville to Richmond Heights, proposals have come and gone, while the idea appears to remain popular with developers and presumably the potential local fan base. According to a past stadium proposal, nearly 10.2% of St. Louis area residents participate in soccer, well above the 7.1% national average. That participation rate places St. Louis as the fourth highest metropolitan region in the nation and would be the highest of any MLS city. The city's soccer heritage extends to St. Louis University and of course the 1950 World Cup team.

Clearly a development of this size would be a game-changer for Union Station. An MLS stadium that could potentially serve as home to nationally competitive SLU soccer as well as tournaments, concerts and other events could enliven the largely dormant landmark. The notable missing component may be enough space to include additional fields, as is sometimes done to create a soccer complex around an MLS stadium. LHM may have several options for a stadium site adjacent to Union Station including adjacent parking lots, the land that may become available with the looming reconfiguration of the 22st Street interchange and even the Gateway Mall terminus.

{another potential site for an MLS stadium at Union Station – by nextSTL}

{an MLS stadium as the terminus of the Gateway Mall could produce stunning visuals – by nextSTL}

While there are likely several sites on which a stadium could conceivably be built, having the stadium be a contiguous part of the larger Union Station is what would make the project truly transformative. This is presumably why the location between the train shed and I-64 is being explored. It's the nearest site the existing MetroLink Station and nearest the multi-modal transit hub just two blocks east. The stadium would take advantage of existing parking facilities. An estimated crowd of 20,000 (MLS average attendance in 2011 was 17,872) would be near the same as a Blues game and downtown St. Louis has shown it can host multiple events at once, whether Blues, Cardinals, Rams or festival events. MLS average attendance is now greater than both the NHL and NBA.

So how realistic is the proposal? It takes a stadium plan and money to start an MLS franchise. St. Louis has seen plans come and go and ownership groups failed to coalesce. What's different here? LHM owns Union Station and has been connected to THF Realty to create a redevelopment plan. THF's chairman and owner is Rams owner Stan Kroenke. Kroenke also owns the MLS Colorado Rapids and is the majority stakeholder of the Arsenal football club. If Kroenke decides to support this effort, the ownership piece of the MLS puzzle will be complete.

{rendering of MLS stadium adjacent to Union Station – by nextSTL Forum member geoffksu}

{an old mock-up considering an MLS stadium at Vandeventer and I-64 – by nextSTL}

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{the now defunct MLS proposal for Richmond Heights – Hanley and I-64}

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{stadium concepts presented as part of Richmond Heights MLS proposal}