top50stl economic development idea of the week: The Arena & Old Busch

It’s hard for me to believe that “new” Busch Stadium is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary. I grew up attending St. Louis Cardinals games at “old” Busch – also known as Busch Memorial Stadium or Busch #2. Old Busch was an iconic building that prominently stood out in downtown St. Louis with its circular shape and distinctive crown of arches. I read that the arches were designed to pay homage to the already designed but yet-to-be-built Gateway Arch, but I had always heard that it was designed to look like a bottle cap to pay homage to its namesake, Anheuser-Busch, but maybe that’s just an urban legend…….I also heard it described as a multi-purpose concrete donut.

Busch Stadium was not just a building for me and I’m sure many others who have lived in St. Louis feel the same; it was a place I grew up. Many people saw the likes of Bob Gipson, Lou Brock and Stan Musial. I grew up watching Whitey Ball with Willie McGee, Tommy Herr and Ozzie Smith (who I was fortunate enough to meet a few weeks ago). I loved watching Mark McGwire chase down the home run record in 1998 and I saw the beginning of a new era with stars like Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter and Yadier Molina.

I was fortunate because I got to attend the last Cardinals baseball game played at Old Busch and say a final goodbye. But, when the wrecking ball rolled in and starting ripping it down, I felt like we were losing a piece of our heart in St. Louis. I had a similar feeling when they tore down the Arena, another iconic St. Louis institution where I spent much of my childhood. The Arena was so unique, unlike any other stadium in the country. It played host to scores of sporting events, but I loved watching Blues hockey and indoor soccer (Steamers/Storm/Ambush) the most. I saw stars like Brett Hull, Al Macinnis and Curtis Joseph. The Blues were always good (during the regular season) reaching the playoffs every year for the first 25 years of my life! They achieved one of the longest streaks of consecutive playoff appearances in all of sports. The Arena and Old Busch were truly special places to watch games growing up.

When it comes down to uniqueness, cultural heritage and pride in a facility, there wasn’t much difference between iconic buildings like The Arena, Wrigley Field or Fenway Park other than Chicagoans and Bostonians made it a priority to maintain the special buildings in their cities. Unfortunately, Saint Louisans have done a poor job of maintaining many of the beautiful buildings located all over the city. We have an abundance of properties with deferred maintenance that need some real tender love and care to be saved from the same fate as The Arena and Old Busch.

But, there’s hope for a resurrection! Recently there have been talks to build a minor league hockey stadium on the plot of land vacated by the old Chrysler plant in Fenton. The developers are hoping to build a new building that looks exactly like the old Arena. I, for one, am 100% in favor of this plan. I’d love to see the Arena again. Not only that, but this site would be such a great location because our minor league soccer team, Saint Louis FC plays just next door the at Soccer Park.

Now, for my idea (which sounds similar to the reconstruction of The Arena). I’ve always wanted to rebuild a miniature version of Old Busch to house a restaurant. It would have to scale down to about the size of the average restaurant space, but from the outside it would look just like the original, a multi-purpose concrete donut with a bottle cap crown. I even came up with a name, Gussie’s, to pay homage to August Busch Jr. who owned and absolutely loved his Cardinals. I say bring back the past! Bring back the memories, bring back the iconic architecture and bring back the buildings I grew up in (even if it is just a rebuild). It would be great!

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