A Whole New Ballgame

Riverfront Times uncovers secret plan for Ballpark Village cultural landmark.

 Spoiler Alert! The sharp stick of satire titled "A Whole New Ballgame" appears to have poked more than the sensitive underbelly of St. Louis' collective cultural inferiority complex.

An attorney who represents one of the famous people whose name the story features prominently called today to inform us that as far as it concerns their client, the piece is "entirely false" and has "no basis in truth whatsoever."

Whaddaya know? The principals of a company known and admired the world over (and their general counsel!) are reading li'l ol' Riverfront Times!

www.ballparkvillage.com username, password: ERPULITZ06, SAYITAINTSO
www.ballparkvillage.com username, password: ERPULITZ06, SAYITAINTSO
username, password: ERPULITZ06, SAYITAINTSO
www.ballparkvillage.com username, password: ERPULITZ06, SAYITAINTSO

They did have a smidgen of constructive criticism to offer. In legal circles, the term is retraction.

The story below is a work of satire. You know, like Jonathan Swift -- only instead of cooking up children we put Emily Pulitzer, Frank Gehry, the St. Louis Cardinals, Mike Shannon and Stanley Elkin in the pot, and stirred. The entrťe that emerged lampoons the posturing of Cardinals ownership and city muckamucks around Ballpark Village (a.k.a. The Crater Formerly Known As Busch Stadium). It was inspired by a kernel of truth: namely, that last month the Cardinals reminded the city that the ballclub had only agreed to commit $60 million to redevelop the now-vacant site, and that it takes a few hundred million more to build a Village. From there we pretty much made it up, from Pulitzer's machinations to Gehry's illustrations to Shannon's protestations.

We trust you get the idea.

Erstwhile media magnate Emily Rauh Pulitzer has entered into an agreement with the St. Louis Cardinals to develop the downtown site known as Ballpark Village, Riverfront Times has learned.

The ten-acre plot, bounded by Walnut Street, Clark Avenue, Eighth Street and Broadway, was formerly occupied by the old Busch Stadium.

World-renowned architect Frank O. Gehry has signed on to design the project. Estimated price tag: $765 million.

Pulitzer, who last year divested her 49 percent share in Pulitzer Inc. when the company was sold to Iowa-based Lee Enterprises, will bankroll the venture.

Gehry is a Canadian-born architect with a taste for stainless steel whose high-profile commissions include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; the Frederick R. Wiseman Museum in Minneapolis; and the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

None of the principals in the proposed deal returned phone calls, but negotiations and other details regarding the plan are elaborated upon in a series of e-mails obtained by Riverfront Times in which Pulitzer, Cardinals president Mark Lamping and vice president of business development Bill DeWitt III, architect Gehry and longtime Redbirds broadcaster Mike Shannon discuss the project.

Riverfront Times was also afforded access to a password-protected Web site, www.ballparkvillage.com, which the Pulitzer team appears to be constructing in order to showcase the nascent plan.

On paper, a marriage between the St. Louis Cardinals and Emily Pulitzer would appear to be an extreme example of the dictum that opposites attract: Though Pulitzer Inc. owned a minority stake in the Cardinals — part of the package purchased by Lee — Emily Pulitzer's considerable philanthropic interests typically reside at the opposite end of the cultural spectrum from mass-market entertainment and professional sports. But the e-mail exchanges and Web site content provide a window into a deal that, if and when it transpires, will utterly transform downtown St. Louis.

According to the e-mails, the plan was hatched in late summer, when Emily Pulitzer approached the St. Louis Cardinals organization with an offer: She would provide the funds to build Ballpark Village in exchange for the right to hire the architect, approve the plans and assemble a roster of tenants.

Mindful of the inevitable clash with taxpayers over financing for the project, the Cardinals provisionally accepted Pulitzer's offer, with the stipulation that the team's ownership group would be equal partners in concept and design.

Lawyers for the team have also insisted on an "out" clause, in the event the Cardinals manage to acquire public funding from local government sources.

In the meantime, however, Pulitzer's team has amassed a breathtaking array of Ballpark Village inhabitants, including:

· The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, both of which will move downtown from Webster University;

· The International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame, whose site across the street from Old Busch will be demolished, then swallowed into "The Village," as Gehry refers to the project;

· The Stanley Elkin Archives, currently housed within Washington University's Special Collections.

A Richard Serra sculpture garden is also part of the Gehry/Pulitzer vision — the centerpiece being the artist's controversial Twain, which currently resides a few blocks to the northwest, in the Gateway Mall.

Perhaps the most ambitious aspect of the plan calls for Kiel Opera House, shuttered since 1991, to be unhitched from its Market Street foundation, towed one-half mile east and re-anchored across the street from Mike Shannon's Steaks and Seafood.

Frank Gehry has achieved a level of fame seldom seen in the world of architecture. Winner of the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1989, the 77-year-old Toronto-born architect's best-known work is the stunning, effervescent Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. His fanciful design for the Experience Music Project in Seattle was a lightning rod, equally loved and loathed. Closer to home, in 2004 he created the stainless-steel Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park. He recently completed a $100 million, ten-story glass tower that will serve as the Manhattan headquarters for media mogul Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp.

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