St. Louis Cardinals: 21st Century Vision for City and Franchise

Matthew MeltonContributor IIIAugust 13, 2012

“I'll believe it when I see it.”

“Still nothing but a Field of Schemes.”

“Ideas more believable than Ballpark Village? Bigfoot, Unicorn, Easter Bunny.”

These quotes are from online comments to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s May 22nd news story regarding the Cardinals’ unveiling of the latest Ballpark Village plan for the downtown area. These remarks are typical points of view from readers, most likely current residents or natives of the St. Louis metropolitan region.

I do not share those attitudes.

Recently, I proffered the idea that Ballpark Village may be the first step of the Cardinals’ and majority team owner Bill DeWitt, Jr.’s effort to truly revitalize the city.

This is obviously no small task, and the latest plan, involving only $100 million of investment while encompassing just two city blocks, is certainly not an end to itself. The work is just beginning.

First, let’s take a look at the economic aspect. The numbers suggest that the Cardinals have more than enough financial muscle to make an impact.

Last June, the City of St. Louis released their 2012 Annual Operating Plan. The plan describes the overall city budget, including a General Fund of $450 Million, which is revenue gained from taxes, fees, fines and the like.

This money provides a large bulk of the city’s services, including funds for public safety (police, fire, medical), maintenance (streets, traffic, refuse), parks and recreation, judicial courts, debt service payments, and the general operations of the government.

While serving as the largest portion of the City’s budget (responsible for the day-to-day running of a metropolis) the general fund is actually less than half of the City’s entire yearly operating fund ($937 million).

Prior to the 2011 season, Forbes magazine valued the Cardinals franchise at $518 Million, ranking them 11th out of 32 MLB teams.

However, the actual financial strength of the Cardinals is probably much higher, when you consider the recent sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2 billion (Forbes valued them last year at $800M), the Cardinals’ current decade-long streak of a continuous yearly rise in team revenue and the team’s subsequent 2011 World Series championship (second in five years).

Looking a little deeper, the Cardinals’ operating income was in the red for the four seasons prior to 2006 (when Busch Stadium III opened). Remember, during that time the Cardinals had superstar players and did fairly well in the standings, including three playoff appearances, two trips to the NLCS and one World Series.

Yet, the team lost over $20 million from 2002-2005. Since then, the team has made money every year, despite missing the playoffs three times in those six seasons.

Do not think for a second that this sudden surge of success in the team’s checkbook is just a coincidence. The Cardinals largely financed the construction of “New Busch,” and they have proven to be very skilled at turning a mega real estate investment into a hugely profitable enterprise.

The Cardinals have the monetary power to take over St. Louis City’s entire general fund and still have a healthy enough reserve left in the coffer. Throw in the obviously strong acumen when it comes to building new attractions and it surely seems possible for the team to successfully lead this latest development in Ballpark Village.

For the world’s most developed nations, the last three centuries have each been dominated by one main accomplishment.  For the 18th Century, it was industrial development; for the 19th, advances in transportation outpaced the field; and in the 20th Century, communications was king.

The question for St. Louis is: what will be the accomplishment of this century, and how can the city be a part of its dominance?

The money is there. The desire is there. It’s the vision that must be perfected.

The Cardinals are, for lack of a better term, the city’s sugar daddy when it comes to funding the dream that is the city’s revitalization.

So, what about that hallmark achievement for the 21st Century? Some might say it will come in areas of biotechnology, or perhaps, in pharmaceuticals.

The ability we have to use living organisms to engineer and manufacture cell and tissue technologies has the potential to touch every aspect of our lives, from agriculture to genetics. Similarly, as our world’s population increases and ages, medicines needed to diagnose, cure, treat and prevent diseases will be just as necessary.

There is arguably no better place for those advancements to take hold then St. Louis. There are at least six major companies in the St. Louis area who currently are at the forefront of the research and development in these areas.

As advancements in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals become more universal, St. Louis can, in turn, serve as the center of that inspiration. That is how St. Louis can achieve another “Lewis & Clark” type moment.