Big, bright and loud.
That’s Ballpark Village, a place with cold beer, mountainous nachos and a mind-blowing video board across the street from Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
Opening Day for the 2016 baseball season is Monday, and the Rangers are optimistic about another winning season after taking last year’s American League West title. Off the field, officials say they’re just weeks away from breaking ground on Texas Live!.
A joint venture between the Rangers and the city of Arlington, Texas Live! is scheduled to open sometime during the 2017 season — and if it’s anything like the one in St. Louis, fans may think it’s a sports bar on steroids.
One cool feature is a retractable roof.
Texas Live! is being designed by Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., the same firm that manages Ballpark Village.
“The facility will be much like this, but tailor-made to the market,” Jim Watry, Cordish’s chief operating officer for Ballpark Village, said during a tour of the St. Louis facility.
In addition to being instrumental in the design, Cordish will manage the property. It has built similar facilities at Kansas City’s Power & Light District, Baltimore’s Power Plant Live! and Philadelphia’s XFINITY Live!
The Arlington version of Ballpark Village will have its own Texas twists. But Rangers executives and Arlington city officials, who are splitting the estimated $100 million cost of the initial development, say there will be many similarities.
No specifics on restaurants or other retail have been released.
Based on our observations in St. Louis, and in the spirit of baseball, here are nine things to know about Texas Live!
1. ‘Downtown’s living room’
The centerpiece of Ballpark Village is a $1 million, 40-foot LED Daktronics video board, the largest screen in the Midwest that’s not inside a stadium, Watry said. It is surrounded by four 14-foot video boards and several 90-inch and 55-inch screens, making it possible to watch a plethora of games at once. Outside, another 24-foot video board is available when the crowd spills out into surrounding streets and parking lots. In all, there are about 110 screens on the premises.
“We also have a fiber feed directly from the stadium, so everything you see on that screen is in real time,” Watry said.
The room is surrounded by brightly-lit, advertising ribbon boards. The volume is perpetually loud, and patrons often must practically yell at each other and their servers to properly communicate. But nobody seems to mind, as it’s all part of the high-energy atmosphere.
Watry dubbed the center of Ballpark Village “downtown’s living room,” mainly because it’s a central meeting place with a terrific TV. And fans agree.
“It really brings everyone together,” said Brian Reuss, a Cardinals fan from Wildwood, Mo. “It’s kind of like the Stan Musial statue. It’s a meeting place.”
When sports are not being shown, movies are a big draw. On a recent evening, the animated Disney flick Big Hero 6 drew hundreds of parents, children in tow.
“We have a $2 million marketing budget and most of that is spent on nongame-day events,” Watry said.
2. Close the roof, please
In St. Louis, the retractable roof is often opened to give patrons fresh air. It takes about two minutes for the roof to fully open.
It is made from a lightweight aluminum frame and Polymar Fiberglass.
In Texas, plans tentatively call for a similar roof, although it’s unclear how frequently it will be open, given the region’s heat.
Next door to the Texas Live! site at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, AT&T Stadium was built with a retractable roof, but it has rarely been opened during games since the facility made its debut in 2009.
3. This Bud’s for you
In St. Louis, it’s all about Anheuser-Busch.
The famed brewing company operates the Budweiser Brew House restaurant, the second largest restaurant in the space. The restaurant offers more than 100 kinds of beer, and foods ranging from ahi tuna tacos to St. Louis-style ribs.
The Fox Sports Midwest Live! restaurant, which occupies the largest open-air restaurant space on both the second and third floors, offers pizza, wings and lots of other sports bar fare.
Most of the restaurants offer weekday lunch specials aimed at people who want to take a break from the their downtown jobs, and maybe eat while watching spring training Cardinals baseball on the big TV.
Other restaurants include Cardinals Nation (a restaurant attached to the club’s hall of fame and museum), a sushi place called Drunken Fish, a Tex-Mex eatery named El Birdos Cantina and a dessert place, The Fudgery.
In Texas, decisions about branding will be made in close consultation with the Rangers, who also have Budweiser as a major sponsor and broadcast most of their games on Fox Sports Southwest.
Even though the Dallas Cowboys are next door, don’t expect any branding partnerships with them, at least not right away. The Cowboys have several major sponsors, including Miller Lite beer, AT&T and Ford.
4. Plan on driving to Arlington
Parking isn’t free at Ballpark Village in St. Louis. Instead, it’s $1 per half-hour with a $16 daily maximum. However, Ballpark Village businesses can validate parking, and offer up to three hours of free parking during certain “happy hour” periods on nongame days.
In Arlington, Texas Live! will be built in what is now the northeast corner of Lot A, at the intersection of Randol Mill Road and Nolan Ryan Expressway. That area is already labeled Texas Live! on Rangers’ parking maps for this season, even though it will remain open for game-day parking until construction begins, possibly this month or in May.
That corner of Lot A was traditionally reserved for season ticket parking, and sometimes cash parking. About 600 parking spots are being lost for the Texas Live! buildings, but more than 1,000 spots still remain in Lot A, said Rob Matwick, Rangers executive vice president of business operations.
The permanent plan for parking once Texas Live! is open is still being discussed, Matwick said.
In St. Louis, as far as getting there goes, most patrons say they drive either alone or with friends. St. Louis does offer a stop on its Metrolink train, which drops people off across the street from Busch Stadium, and patrons say mass transit is popular on Cardinals game days, as well as when the St. Louis Blues hockey team plays home games at nearby Scottrade Center.
Arlington, on the other hand, is the largest city in the United States without a comprehensive mass transit system and has no immediate plans to serve Texas Live! with transit. However, the city does have limited MAX bus service connecting the entertainment district to CentrePort Station on the Trinity Railway Express line, and there are early discussions about Arlington someday adding a TRE stop of its own where the train tracks cross North Collins Street.
But mostly, in Arlington, it’s every driver for himself.
5. Lots of live music
Live music is featured several nights per week on the Fox Sports Midwest Live! stage. On a recent evening, the ’80s throwback rock back Queens Blvd performed. On Thursday evenings, a house band performs live karaoke and invites restaurant patrons to come on stage and sing. Salsa, tango and other dance performances are common on weekends.
When Ballpark Village had its grand opening in March 2014, Third Eye Blind performed to a packed house.
On the second floor there is a Howl at the Moon Dueling Piano Bar, where audience-interactive musical performances take place Wednesday-Saturday.
PBR St. Louis, a bar that features a mechanical bull and drinks served in souvenir boot-shaped glasses, has its own concert stage.
There will be lots of live music in Arlington as well.
6. A roof with a view
On the nonretractable part of the roof at Ballpark Village are about 300 seats where patrons can watch Cardinals baseball games. The view is just over the left-center field wall.
Arlington won’t have such a feature anytime soon because Globe Life Park is enclosed on all sides. However, Cordish officials say they could add a bleacher seat feature in Arlington if the team and the city wanted one.
St. Louis’ Ballpark Village also features a large outdoor beer garden, and a party space with a giant 24-foot video board.
Also, the original infield of the first Busch Stadium, which was torn down after the new Busch Stadium opened in 2006, is preserved for parties and concerts — with pavement markings representing the infield bases in their original positions.
7. Preserving baseball history
On the second floor of Cardinals Nation in Ballpark Village is the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum. There, fans can try on a World Series ring and even hold one of Stan Musial’s bats.
More than 16,000 pieces of memorabilia are in the facility, including the uniform worn by 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel, who walked in four pitches at bat in a 1951 publicity stunt for the St. Louis Browns.
Rangers officials also have said they will have a museum of some sort at Texas Live!
It’s unclear how the plan will affect the Texas Rangers Baseball Hall of Fame on the lower level of Globe Life Park.
8. What the fan’s say
Fans give Ballpark Village rave reviews. They say the prices are reasonable and are more in line with what you’d expect to pay at a sports bar or restaurant than at a stadium. On a recent evening, a 16-ounce draft beer could be had for $4, and a plate of fried ravioli (a St. Louis staple) was $9.
For St. Louis, Ballpark Village is a way to bring people downtown, a place where fear of crime tends to keep people away, except when the Cardinals are playing.
“For people who live in the suburbs, this is a way for them to experience downtown while still feeling safe,” said Chelsea Osterby, who visited the village on a recent night to watch the NCAA basketball tournament.
In Arlington, Texas Live! is being pitched for different reasons. There, the emphasis is on bringing more foot traffic — and eventually residents — to the empty parking lots in the city’s entertainment district, which is anchored by Globe Life Park and AT&T Stadium.
Such a retail and entertainment venue has been a desire of Arlington city officials since Globe Life Park opened in 1994.
9. Down payment on a pledge
Will Texas Live! be enough to keep the Rangers in Arlington?
Rangers officials say the development doesn’t necessarily mean they’re staying in Arlington when their lease runs out in 2024, but Arlington city officials, who have agreed to pay $50 million of Texas Live! costs, have made it clear their intentions are to do everything they can to keep their professional baseball club from going to Dallas.
Texas Live! certainly appears to be a down payment on the city’s pledge.
In addition to 100,000 feet of restaurant, bar and other retail space, Texas Live! also includes 35,000 feet of convention space, and plans for a 300-bed hotel to be built later. The high-rise, luxury hotel, which is expected to add another $100 million to the project cost, is expected to be built in a second construction phase and won’t be open for a couple of years.
In St. Louis, Ballpark Village is considered a big success. The only negative comment heard repeatedly is that the allure of the new place with all its high-definition screens and other amenities has dramatically hurt older businesses in the downtown area that used to cater to Cardinals game-day revelers. Several of those restaurants and bars have shut down.