Cardinals Set to Flee St. Louis Without “Top Tier” Stadium Deal

As if the drama surrounding the possible departure of the St. Louis Rams National Football League team wasn’t enough, nextSTL has learned that the St. Louis Cardinals may relocate if funds are not found for a new “top tier” stadium.

Opened just a decade ago to much fanfare, Busch Stadium III is already seeing wear, and is considered by many to be outdated. The final construction cost of just $364M, a modest sum by today’s standards, ironically makes the stadium almost expendable.

The Cardinals are estimated to be worth $1.4B, sixth most of the 30 MLB teams, according to Forbes. The same publication recently reported the club is the most profitable in baseball. This reportedly has team ownership dreaming of the payoff in a growing market.

While much of the focus has been on elaborate sports palaces in the NFL, the Atlanta Braves are set to raise the bar in MLB. In suburban Atlanta, Cobb County will finance approximately $300M of that nearly $1B mixed use development. It is said that Cardinals owner Bill Dewitt, Jr. has shared in private conversations that he doesn’t want to be outdone by the Atlanta club, or any other team.

The Braves spent just 20 years in Turner Field, host stadium to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Converted to baseball use following the Olympics, the stadium was considered state-of-the-art at the time. The new stadium would be a modern mixed-use concept, but up to $450M in adjacent development, dwarfing the Cardinal’s slow-to-start Ballpark Village concept.

{rendering of new Braves stadium and development in suburban Cobb County}

In St. Louis, there are regrets the Cardinals chose a retro, faux brick stadium, the last of its genre. While the retro stadium trend had its genesis in Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards (1992), the fad was clearing waning as plans were finalized in 2004 for a new St. Louis ballpark.

Reached via Twitter, Cardinals Sr. Vice President & General Manager John Mozeliak referenced the ongoing effort to keep the NFL in St. Louis. “Rams deserve top tier stadium, and so do Cards. We’re no longer there today”, Mozeliak messaged.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has appointed a two man stadium task force to pull together a riverfront stadium plan in St. Louis for the Rams. A similar, even mirror image, effort may already be underway with the Cardinals. Former Anheuser-Busch executive Dave Peacock and attorney Bob Blitz reportedly met with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred last week.

In 2011, a large steel decorative element fell from the stadium onto the 8th Street sidewalk. At the time, Stadium Operations Director Mike Bertani told KMOX,  “It’s an outdoor stadium, so you’ve got temperatures of minus five and now we’ve heat indices of 105, and we also have a lot of rain, so there’s some rust up there.” While this condition isn’t unique to St. Louis, it appears to be having a substantial impact on the stadium.

With annual profit greater than $70M, and a value of nearly one and a half billion, the club would have several options to finance a new stadium in a new city. Of course, team financing may not be necessary. If a deal like that in Cobb County, Georgia can be made, the team may find itself in a new stadium at virtually no cost.

{map of MLB TV markets – by FanGraphs}

Famously purchased by a partnership headed by Dewitt for just $147M in 1996, the team quickly divested in parking facilities that came attached to the team. That sale resulted in a final team purchase price of just $100M.

“It’s all upside, we want to maximize what’s possible,” Dewitt told reporters at the time. Now it appears the Cardinals will explore exactly what that means. According to several websites that track possible MLB expansion or relocation, Portland, Oregon, San Antonio, Texas, and San Juan, Puerto Rico are possible new homes for the franchise.

Absent the Cardinals, Busch Stadium could be utilized as a concert and soccer venue. The facility’s largest attendance was reached at an international soccer match between Chelsea F.C. vs Manchester City F.C. That contest saw 48,263 fans attend. More matches could be scheduled if the stadium schedule was more open. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a huge soccer fan, is reportedly in favor of more matches at Busch, should the Cardinals leave.

*We’ll update this developing story throughout the day.

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