"Better to have a stunning signature building than more of the faux-retro corporate sellout theme park that is our new Busch."

Week of October 26, 2006

Feature, October 19, 2006

Our Field of Dreams (Not Gehry's)

Editor's Note: Last week Randall Roberts exposed Emily Pulitzer's secret plan for Ballpark Village. Instead of kitschy souvenir shops and an ESPN Zone, downtown St. Louis was going to get a shiny new cultural center designed by a world-class architect that would include a new home for the Rep, Opera Theatre and Stanley Elkin's papers, not to mention long-shuttered Kiel Opera House, which would be triumphantly wheeled down Market Street and deposited across the street from Mike Shannon's restaurant.

Preposterous, you say?

Well, yeah. Emily Pulitzer didn't organize or offer to finance anything. Architect Frank O. Gehry didn't design anything or criticize anyone. Mike Shannon didn't say, "It's a knuckleball, thrown by a knucklehead." It was all a satire, a parody: fiction intended to make a point.

Some readers spotted it immediately; some didn't. Several people, including news reporters, called or wrote to ask if the tale was true. To anyone who asked, we owned right up.

Our intention wasn't to dupe; it was to broaden the debate about the fate of the muddy crater that, even as the Cardinals vie for postseason glory in the national spotlight, lies untouched just beyond the new Busch Stadium's left-field stands. (Plus, it was cool to fantasize that downtown might be in line for an edifice to rival the Guggenheim in Bilbao.)

If "A Whole New Ballgame" is outrageous, so are the facts: Ballpark Village isn't going to build itself. And now that the Cardinals have raised the issue of public funding — reminding city leaders that the ballclub pledged a (comparatively) paltry $60 million toward the cost of redeveloping the prime piece of acreage — shouldn't we all start talking about what might or might not get put there?

Regardless of whether you "got" Roberts' approach, the story found its mark: At least for a little while, on blogs, on radio shows and in our e-mail inbox, people were talking.

Please, no sculptures! Why would we want to build something to compete with the new stadium? Isn't Ballpark Village supposed to supplement it? Gehry's buildings are disruptive. They shout "Look at me! Look how innovative I am!" The problem is that his "buildings" are actually sculptures.

I'm from Seattle and the Experience Music Project is a nightmare on the inside. It's about as effective as having a restaurant and art gallery crammed in the twists and turns of the Statue of Liberty. To put it another way: Gehry's Ballpark Village looks like the renovation that took place at Soldier Field in Chicago: a classic building "enhanced" by a space-age look. St. Louis already has an incredible landmark in the Arch. Why muck up the skyline with an eyesore?
Tad Trier, St. Louis

Where's the doggone ESPN Zone? After reading your story (and the confidential e-mails) about the newly proposed plan for Ballpark Village, I must say that I am rather disappointed with these new plans. I, like Mike Shannon, was looking forward to new restaurants, shops, condominiums and most importantly the ESPN Zone. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked! However this proposed "cultural" village seems as if it will be completely out of place next to a ballpark, and even more out of place next to the new casino they plan to build, etc. I mean really, who gets fired up for a Cardinals game by going to the friggin' opera, by watching a play or by reading some prose from an author whose work obviously wasn't good enough to turn into a Spielberg movie, let alone a Sunday night CBS miniseries (just joking!).

And really, after losing my rent money at that fancy new casino, do you think that watching a matinee performance of Fiddler on the Roof is going to somehow turn my frown upside down? It won't, but watching the Cardinals kick the crap of the Astros and then having a beer at the ESPN Zone would surely ease the pain of knowing that I'm newly homeless and should've saved the box my plasma TV came in.

But seriously, the fans want what we were promised, nothing more, nothing less! Don't get me wrong, I think cultural attractions are extremely important to the fabric of a city, but not when it's next to a ballpark and around the corner from a Hooters. If I want culture, then I will go seek it, but when I'm at the game I want to be surrounded by the elements of the game, and opera ain't one of them. I just think it's a disgrace to Cardinal fans to put the Ballpark Village construction into the hands of an out-of-touch, elderly wack job who seems to only have her interests at heart, and an architect who stated that he doesn't like baseball.

So my message to all parties involved is simply this: Yes, having a new fancy-shmancy opera house would be a nice addition to downtown, but would you really want Budweiser stains on that newly laid Berber carpet, or drunken Cubs fans beating the crap out of the Blue Man Group? I think not. So shut up and give me my damn ESPN Zone!
William Brown, Florissant

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