ST. LOUIS -- A row of 20 shovels lined the area in front of a temporary stage, from which the Cardinals, the Cordish Companies and civic leaders celebrated the groundbreaking of Ballpark Village, a 10-acre development property at the site of the former Busch Stadium II.
Twenty individuals –- all of whom have had a hand in the years-long and exhausting process of spearheading the project –- were invited to dig a shovel into the dirt to celebrate the start of construction on Friday morning.
But those shovels, while symbolic of a commencement, held hardly the significance of the other construction equipment nearby.
Around the area designated for the groundbreaking ceremony were bulldozers, which had already begun tearing up ground. Clark Street, which will cut between Busch Stadium and Ballpark Village, was partially roped off by metal barricades. A handful of construction workers meandered around the construction grounds.
It was, after years of delay, visible progress that this project is moving forward.
"This morning," said Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III, "is like Christmas morning to me."
DeWitt III has been leading the Cardinals' efforts to create Ballpark Village since the late 90s, when the Cardinals first started brainstorming what could stand on the site of a ballpark that would soon be torn down. Busch Stadium III opened in 2006, but plans to construct Ballpark Village shortly after were continually stalled by financial issues related to a sagging economy.
Those recurring delays and empty early promises were referenced in lighthearted ways during Friday's groundbreaking ceremony.
"It's been a long time coming," said St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. "It's been a very much anticipated event. But yes, this day is indeed here. ... This shows that when the city and partners cooperate and collaborate, we can move past obstacles and achieve great things."
Added Blake Cordish, vice president of development for Cordish Companies: "Game-changing projects like Ballpark Village are immensely challenging, even in the best of economic times, much less in the headwinds that we have all faced in the last several years."
Cordish Companies, a real estate development company, has partnered with the Cardinals on this project, which will include a $100 million first phase that is expected to open on Opening Day 2014. Last September, financing for the project was approved by the Missouri Development Finance Board.
Over the next several months, grading and demolition work will be done. That will include the teardown of the structure that once housed the Bowling Museum Hall of Fame. Vertical construction work is slated to begin in early spring, and the shell of the first buildings should be completed over the summer. During the fall, the interiors of buildings will be filled in.
Surface parking lots and infrastructure for future site work will also be constructed during this phase.
Anchoring Ballpark Village will be Cardinals Nation, the Budweiser Brew House and the Live! At Ballpark Village marketplace. Cardinals Nation will house the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum, as well as a retail store, two-story restaurant, an event space and a 300-plus seat rooftop deck looking into Busch Stadium.
The three-story Budweiser Brew House will also feature a rooftop deck with views into the ballpark. A retractable, glass canopy will cover the Live! At Ballpark Village event space so that it can be utilized year-round.
Additional tenants for the Ballpark Village site have already been secured and will be announced in the coming months.
"We remain committed to developing a project that is not only the gold standard for St. Louis and for the region, but one that you can hold up against any project in the United States of America," Cordish said. "Our vision for Ballpark Village is to create a gameday experience unparalleled in Major League Baseball. We'll have something that no other city has in the United States."
Cordish added that the Ballpark Village site will also host more than 100 free events a year -- among them, festivals, concerts, art fairs and family days -- in order to keep the area vibrant through all seasons.
"Our goal," Cordish said, "is to be the living room for the community."
It was also announced on Friday that the Cardinals and Cordish Companies combined to make a $100,000 contribution to the Arch Grants Effort, which is a local initiative to invest in start-up companies coming to downtown St. Louis. Other economic benefits of Ballpark Village include the expected creation of almost 500 permanent jobs and nearly a thousand construction jobs.
"When we decided to build the ballpark, we saw the tremendous opportunity that this location provided for us to do something beyond simply replacing an aging ballpark," owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said. "We saw an opportunity to enhance the gameday experience for our fans with a project unlike any other in baseball.
"I have no doubt that Ballpark Village will be the envy of all of baseball and something that we will take pride in for generations."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.