MLS Stadium in Midtown at SLU Enters the Conversation

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MLS stadium_Cannon Design

It seems, feels, appears that St. Louis is going to be a Major League Soccer city. The “when” still isn’t exactly clear, but we’re likely looking at another four years or so. The “where” is much less clear.

Though the league has public stated, and privately shared, its preference for a “downtown” stadium as opposed to a suburban location, it’s unclear if and how much wiggle room there is on location. Would a South City stadium at the site of underutilized and empty light industrial buildings along Gustine Avenue appeal to the league (and neighbors)?

It almost goes without saying at this point, that the best guess location is immediately west of Union Station. MoDOT is set to enter into an agreement with the St. Louis Development Corporation to sell land that would be vacated by the rebuilding of the 22nd Street interchange. With the reconfiguration, a stadium could easily fit, and add to the density of venues on the south side of downtown. But other locations are possible.

How about the vacant site at Grand Boulevard and Chouteau Avenue in the city’s Midtown neighborhood? The site is along major transportation routes, including the 70 Grand bus running south into the heart of the region’s soccer fan base, MetroLink, and between I-64 and I-44. Images released by Foundry St. Louis show “hlk STADIUM” rendered by Cannon Design.

MLS stadium_Cannon DesignMLS stadium_Cannon Design

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote last week that Saint Louis University President Fred Pestello has been in contact with Foundry St. Louis, one of the aspiring ownership groups in St. Louis. Pestello told the Post-Dispatch, “We’d be very interested in looking at what that would mean as well as what it would bring to the surrounding area.”

Foundry St. Louis came to our attention when it called for an open process by the league to select a St. Louis ownership group. According to the Post-Dispatch, Foundry has enlisted the support of Rick Lehman, a past team doctor for the St. Louis Blues and a part-owner of the Florida Panthers in the National Hockey League, among others.

The MLS2STL group in St. Louis is the league and city-endorsed leadership group aimed at identifying an ownership group for an expansion franchise. However, many assume that ownership will come from members of that group. In this climate, Foundry St. Louis is viewed somewhat as an insurgent effort.

But the vision and location of the stadium in Midtown is intriguing for several reasons. First, there is ample vacant land available. The site on the northwest corner of Grand and Chouteau has been landbanked by SLU and Cortex. New university leadership appears a little more urban-minded than in the past and there may be a desire to develop some of these large parcels.

The site is at the center of what’s expected to be 395-acres of blighted land, with a redevelopment corporation affiliated with SLU to direct development. Perhaps most promising are potential close partnerships with the university hospital and other academic programs.

In the same way that the school’s law school move to downtown St. Louis, adjacent to the city and federal courthouses and the region’s largest law firms, close proximity to the stadium could facilitate partnerships. Imagine sports medicine and sports-focused entrepreneurial business endeavors. And they could be housed in the same facility.

One near precedent is the new Indiana Pacers practice facility, a partnership with St. Vincent Health. With the burgeoning Cortex district nearby, it’s becoming easier to imagine a sports start-up scene in Midtown. Not to mention, the facility would make for an incredible home to the storied SLU soccer teams.

Ultimately, site selection for an MLS stadium in St. Louis isn’t going to be a democratic process (surprise!), but for those who care about such things, this is the time to weigh in, loudly.

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  • Brian Wallner

    I really don’t see much room for parking in the images…would this be purely a public transportation stadium?

  • SnakePlissken

    All I care about is the Captain D’s across the street. Does it stay or go?

    • PD

      Sure looks like its still there in the renderings.

  • Eddie in NorCal

    You have an ownership group with strong connections to the largest and most successful public company to come out of St. Louis in the last three decades, Express Scripts. The individuals leading the effort have deep roots in St. Louis — Dan Cordes is a graduate of SLUH (varsity soccer, too), St. Louis COP, entrepreneur and early employee at ESRX. The proposed location is adjacent to the most vibrant area of the region for economic development: Cortex, the other Foundry project, new SLU Medical Center, Armory, the Grove/FPSE neighborhood, etc. And it has the support of the biggest landlord in the area, SLU, which is often being criticized for its extensive landbanking and in this instance looks to put a significant amount of that greenspace into productive use. The proposal leans heavily on public transit options and doesn’t include acres of parking lots.

    What’s not to like?

  • jkf1220

    It would be great to see a concentration of new development in that area to fill the gap and the yards between 64/40 and Chouteau and connecting north and ssouth Grand. But, I don’t think this is the place for the stadium. The Union Station site is better all around. Still like the riverfront in theory but the Union Station site ends up being cheaper and a single owner to deal with (the city) who is interested in selling instead of multiple owners looking to make money on the Riverfront.

  • Don

    The NFL is dead to me. Long live MLS!

    My excitement is tempered by the fact that we know very little about Foundry. Except for Dan Cordes, a pharmacist who was one of the initial employees at
    Express Scripts and went on to be on their senior staff, we know very little about this group whose members appear to be a closely guarded secret.

    MLS’ single biggest requirement of any ownership group is extremely deep pockets, as in hundreds of millions. MLS wants financial stability for franchises and owners who can absorb multi-million dollar loses for years. Ownership groups can fall apart in the face of financial losses over a period of years so MLS prefers ownership wealth be concentrated in one of two people. MLS knows with this kind of money, the rest of the pieces will fall into place. The last St Louis bid failed for lack of sufficient wealth.

    Cordes assures everyone the secret group has sufficiently deep pockets. I assume Dan did very well for himself at Express Scripts including some great stock options but even $100M isn’t going to work.

    I’m struggling to shake this Déjà vu ‘St Louis Stallions’ feeling I’m getting the whole process with Foundry and MLS2STL, the latter inspiring more confidence since this isn’t their first rodeo.

    Access is the key to a successful stadium location which is why in or around downtown works so well. Downtown has the existing transportation infrastructure to handle stadium size grounds. I’d be happy this proposed site, Union Station (both of which already have Metrolink access) or even the north riverfront former location of the proposed NFL stadium. North riverfront badly needs a new face and cleaning up the City’s riverfront is very important to the future of the City. The lack of access to Gustine makes it a very unlikely site.

  • citylover

    This looks way out of place. I want TOD plan for Grand. Put soccer stadium by union station

  • Brock M

    I realize that these are renderings and they want some WOW factor. Unfortunately I didn’t make the meeting last night, but I want to share some of my responses to their online survey to be sure they are added to the conversation. Sorry for the length:

    Are there any other features of a soccer-specific stadium in St Louis that would be important to you?
    Noise is the most important factor. The fan experience will be the thing that brings people back because inevitably the team will struggle early on (and will have droughts because of parity rules in MLS). Also, the experience will inevitably be compared to what people are watching on TV in England, with loud fan sections and close camaraderie between fans. Research what has happened to Arsenal since building their new stadium. Their attendance is high because of their location in London, successful club and international appeal. But, people have complained that the new stadium is quiet compared to the old one; the fan experience is nothing like what it was at the old Highbury. Many people say the stadium is now filled mostly with tourists. St. Louis cannot match the quality of Arsenal yet (by a long shot) so we need to focus small and simple. Build a stadium like the old Highbury that allows people to look in the corners and see the pitch from the street, that allows people to feel like the field is part of their neighborhood. This will create ownership among the fans.

    If you can think of one, what other stadium — professional soccer or otherwise — might best influence a St. Louis soccer-specific one? Why?
    I believe the focus on very modern looking buildings around the country is nice overall. However, this can end up alienating the local residents from the structure and costing a lot more. Inevitably, futuristic designs don’t look futuristic anymore (look at anything built in the 70’s or the Ram’s old stadium). Simple, classic designs like the new Busch or Wrigley make a stadium feel like part of the city. If the club grows in 20 years, build a new, big stadium. For now, make sure the stadium is simple, cost effective, accessible to everyone and fitting.

    Do you have any other suggestions for a future soccer stadium in St Louis?
    St. Louis is a city of history, allow the club to feel more historic (by using classic kits, grass instead of turf, etc…). Keep costs low to keep ticket costs low to fill the stadium. Any soccer team in St. Louis will fail if the fan experience is poor, and people will inevitably compare to the Premier League or the Cardinals, two excellent experiences. People want to feel like their team belongs to them, do everything in your power to make this real…not just by marketing slogans like “Our team, Our town” or something like that. Make the team really be a part of the town, not cut off by highways and parking lots. People should be able to see the stadium and the club practicing as they go about their daily lives or get a drink near the stadium.

    • SnakePlissken

      I agree with everything you’re saying but want to single out “futuristic designs don’t look futuristic anymore ”

      I sort of agree… Example The St. Louis Science Center is so incredibly outdated, ugly and needs a facelift (others will disagree I’m sure). Was a kid when it was built and thought it was the coolest building I’d ever seen. That said the late 80’s/early 90’s produced garbage design in this city so my view point was limited.

      Using the NGA as an example I think the only way it’s considered a success is if the design is “year 3000 ad future fucking space ship Bond villain moon base.” Anything else in my mind will be a total failure. I’m almost conceding that it’ll be a suburban warehouse bomb shelter though and my neighborhood will most likely never recover if so.

      • Greg Turner

        Nah man. The Science Center is gonna look super hip in a few years. Remember the Del Taco Saucer? It only takes a few years before outdated shifts into retro-chic.

  • STLEnginerd

    The quality of the renderings, and incidentally the merchandise at the event last night was pretty surprising. The fact that they were seemingly made in a vacuum without significant acknowledged input from MLS2STL, the MLS, or the city seems like a recipe for failure.

    Who is paying for canon to generate these plans…? The fact they are as high quality as they are makes me second guess pessimism.

    The SLU connection is huge, and they even subtly name-dropped George Paz last night which would make the proposal instantly legit if he were connected to this effort.

    I could be happy with this or a union station location but for me to believe in the midtown location I need to see legitimate proposals for adjacent development. And by that I mean beyond renovation of Pevely, the Armory, and the new SLU hospital.

  • Tim E

    One thing odd in the rendering is parking? No parking from what I can tell unless I’m missing it.

    Could appreciate the thought that everyone will take transit, or work or bike to the stadium but the reality won’t be the case. Nor do I think a parking structure between stadium and new hospital taking over Pevely not very desireable outcome but sure SLU would like the game day revenues

    • rgbose

      They said it’d be under the stadium, taking advantage of the grade already there.

    • If you look closely at the first image (click on it to expand), you’ll see a “bay wall’ curving along an extended Spring Avenue to the stadium’s west. in this design, all parking is placed in there.

      I’d have to expect that’d be a nonstarter though, what with security/terrorism risks — I think most new stadiums would want to (have to?) avoid placing vulnerable access points directly below their 25,000+ capacity venue.

      • TIm E

        Thanks, makes sense as that is a lot of fill to take grade all the way to the existing rail tracks.
        Still think they are low balling the stadium cost when take all in with structured parking and platform. But first thing first for them is to sell it to the MLS

  • FutbolFanSTL

    My preference is for the MLS stadium to be built in south city–the empty light industrial buildings along Gustine Avenue just because it is not a high traffic zone and it can help the community. It would appeal to the neighbors. Once you have the MLS stadium there, adjacent areas may become later developed (maybe part of Grand too that really needs it). It could get the ball rolling for more to come. It could change things up and breathe new life to that area. It needs someone to show it some love and attention.

    It helps to spread things out to different areas of the city so that no one spot has concentrated hubbub. It can be crazy busy downtown because there is too much hubbub going on at the same time. SLU area is quite busy too. If midtown or downtown locations were chosen for the MLS stadium site, then it would concentrate the hubbub that is already there.

    By locating the MLS stadium to south city, it will direct people to a new area of the city that they may not be so familiar with and doesn’t have much hubbub. The idea is to spread things out. Have them get to know south city. Something different than downtown or midtown. It has a good enough number of bar/pub food places as well as ethnic food places. That could be easily expanded and improved to make it an interesting area for hungry soccer fans from all sorts of backgrounds that want to try different foods and drinks.

    South city, particularly Dutchtown neighborhood needs economic help. It could bring up the small businesses in that area (local restaurants, pubs, and ethnic food places that are privately owned) and create jobs locally. People from Dutchtown could work at the stadium. I think it is the perfect location for the stadium since the workforce is nearby. You have Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Bhutanese refugees, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, Haitian, (not sure I met very many Bosnians in that neighborhood), etc. Many are hard working but they need stable, local jobs–good jobs. This new stadium is something that could help that area in so many ways. It could also start a renaissance for that part of the city. Please give strong consideration to south city. Help the people.

    • Don

      “It would appeal to the neighbors”

      Would it? I’m skeptical. I would expect a lot of neighborhood resistance because of traffic.

      • FutbolFanSTL

        Yes sir! They will want the jobs that will come to their area with open arms. Go to Dutchtown south and see for yourself. Drive along Gustine. Look at the people. They need something to unite their community. MLS soccer stadium can serve both a jobs need and a community unifier. I see a lot of soccer fans there. South city is becoming more and more like north city (increase in crime, vacant-abandoned, run-down old industrial decay). Give South city something that they can build from. They need to get the ball rolling (no soccer pun intended!).

        North City: NGA and other developments (clinic, new homes, retail)
        Downtown: current development and more to come
        Midtown: Cortex and new development to come
        South City: ??? (under consideration for future MLS stadium site)

        Spread the new development out throughout the city. Don’t concentrate it to just midtown or downtown. Soccer stadium in South City sounds really good. It’s a folksy part of town, which makes it the perfect location. You go to south city for soccer games. Just love the idea! Give it to the people who need it the most. Be generous and kind hearted to lower socioeconomic areas.

        • rgbose

          How many jobs would a soccer stadium have? Employers with numerous full-time jobs, on not a lot of land is what is needed (there and everywhere). Selling them a stadium on jobs, jobs, jobs would turn out to be a cruel broken promise.

          • Tim E

            Have to agree with RG, worry about building a transportation system within city that gives people options to get to jobs.
            On the other end, like the idea of a good ol plain soccer stadium situated in existing working neighborhood. The tough part is any plan IMO should be an easy walk from metrolink nor can realistically expect a stadium to drive a future fixed transit link. That is where West Downtown and Midtown/SLU plan excel.

  • Will M

    I wonder if the small stadium size is to create higher ticket prices or just represents the market of average attendance. Either way I would advocate for a stadium with the capacity of 30,000 and up. Attendance in the mls seems to be rising on average and I would think St Louis attendance would be much higher than average, considering the citys history with soccer. I would think wed have a comparable attendance to Seattle. It doesnt look like this design leaves much room for inevitable expansion. Hopefull the next rendering will show more. Looks good! would look better on the hill next to Harrys!

  • rgbose

    Please put a building at the corner of Grand and Chouteau!

  • I like it…add in the DeSoto route N-S line as another transit connection too… 🙂

  • rgbose
    • Will M

      that really is an incredible design. If the Foundry group were to commit nearby, cooperating development (they are with city foundry so check) and slu were to commit to not only developing a new hospital but also opening the pevely site and the parking lots west of the existing hospital to comprehensive urban development (actual dense neighborhoods), this would truly be a comprable to the Union Station location. One can only hope.

      But Wow! is what im thinking seeing this

  • rgbose
  • tbatts666

    I like the spot on chouteau and grand… but it would need to be leveraged with other smaller uses. And these smaller businesses (shops, restaurants, housing) won’t naturally pop up if the surrounding area continues to be landbanked.

    The area is decimated. Id feel safer if some low risk incremental investment proceeded the high risk mega investment.

    • Aaron B

      The group is also suggesting a Wrigleyville style development on the NE side of that corner.

      • Tim E

        Wrigleyville style development sounds like the proponents version of BPV. Sorry but Wrigley was plopped right smack into an existing neighborhood and neither went away. That’s why it a great place to go and watch a game before, during and after the game whether you like Cubs or not.

        The part I don’t like is SLU cleared the immediate area of any resemblance of its previous past under past leadership now current leadership is trying to find a way to utilize all the land that was banked. …

        Great renderings, not a bad location but I don’t think it will create the desired development infill immediate next to it like everyone believes. Heck it has taken a decade for someone like Koman even to propose an infill project outside of BPV next to Busch stadium. Cardinals sell out 40k seats for 81 home games a year with one of the best attendance records in MLB. I don’t believe their is a MLS team that even comes close. So I tend to believe a neighborhood is going to be rebuilt around SLU because of a soccer stadium is wishful thinking at best.

        • Don

          There are 17 home games in the MLS regular season. Just sayin’

  • Benjamin Aronov

    Who did the mockup?

  • tbatts666

    Typo at spelling of downtown. 🙂

  • rgbose

    I pictured it right up to the corner of Grand and Chouteau with a restaurant/bar there. Interesting having it go over the railroad tracks though.

    • tbatts666

      Awesome. I always thought it would be directly across from peevely if ever, but the pictured configuration would be much easier walk from metro.

      • Alex Ihnen

        Right. The one rendering shows direct access from the Grand station without having to up to Grand Boulevard.

      • Tim E

        As rendered with platform will also take as much or more site and infrastructure work as the proposed RAMS riverfront stadium. Riverfront stadium routed tracks where as this builds tunnels and so on. The platform itself is massive compared to the lid for the Arch Grounds.
        Great vision but this would take a big chunk change just to get to the point where you can build the stadium itself. RG’s comment on siting right up to the corner of the intersection not as flashy but would be substantial cheaper, quicker and easier to build.

        • jhoff1257

          The way it’s designed now is so there can be closer and direct access from the Grand Station and so they can take advantage of the existing grade to build parking under the stadium. This actually works quite well. When I first saw this I was thinking the same thing you were, but with the way this looks now you could add some more human scaled development along Grand and Chouteau to bring some retail or bars and such.

          • Tim E

            I think development on Grand and Chouteau is way off in the future even with MSL there.
            However, this plan really works if the platform/connectivity to Armory & Foundry is followed through with. Foundry phase II includes a high rise residential and Green Streets is floating a hotel next door to Armory believe. Those developments take off.