The architecture firm discovered a handful of potential locations. Problem was, one was owned by the City of St. Louis, another by the federal government, and a third by a private developer. Eventually, the firm told the DeWitts about a bus lot south of Busch Stadium II that they controlled. The lot was right next to an elevated highway. The family doubted it was big enough.
"If you build the new stadium in that site, you could build two-thirds of it and then you'd have to build the other third where the other stadium is," DeWitt III recalled HOK telling him. "We don't know how quite we'd do that, but if we can pull it off, all of a sudden the site of the old stadium could become a development opportunity and you control it.
"That was the eureka moment for us, because we all of a sudden realized that this could be more than just a ballpark."
Eight seasons after Busch Stadium III's opening -- following the clearing of numerous roadblocks with potential tenants, local politics and their development partner, the Cordish Companies -- DeWitt has more than just a ballpark as Ballpark Village makes its much-anticipated public debut Thursday.
The finishing touches were being added to the $100 million first phase of the Ballpark Village project on Tuesday, when the 120,000-square foot facility was open to reporters.
This multi-story, first phase of Ballpark Village features Cardinals Nation -- a 34,000-square foot venue with a restaurant, bar and the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum -- and the Budweiser Brew House, a three-level venue with more than 200 beer taps, an outdoor beer garden and a rooftop deck with views of Busch Stadium.
Other venues include Ted Drewes, Howl at the Moon, Drunken Fish, Fox Sports Midwest Live! -- which features a $1 million video board that is the Midwest's largest indoor TV that's not in a stadium setting and weighs 3,760 pounds -- and PBR St. Louis: A Cowboy Bar. Three additional tenants -- The Fudgery, Jamba Juice and Majestic -- will open this summer.
"I don't think anybody's imagination can be as detailed as reality, so I always knew that this was a great opportunity for taking advantage of the view corridor we created with the design of the ballpark," DeWitt III said. "We left left field wide open for a reason -- this reason.
"To finally be here, to be taking advantage of it and seeing people walk in and have those 'wow' moments and experience that view for the first time, and realize, 'Holy cow, this was thought out' ... those are the moments I couldn't have imagined to see of just how excited people are."
The village also features five live performance stages, the largest retractable roof of its kind and an outdoor area that recreates the infield of the previous Busch Stadium in its exact location.
The old stadium's home plate is just one of the many St. Louis-themed aspects woven into the village. The Budweiser Brew House was designed to be reminiscent of the Anheuser-Busch brewery with its green-accented tiles, rotundas and wooden crates. The mechanical bull inside PBR St. Louis is named Ozzie, after Cards great Ozzie Smith. The building's walls are covered with Cardinals memorabilia and historic photographs.
The economic impact of Ballpark Village on St. Louis is expected to be overwhelmingly positive. Not counting construction jobs, the creation of the facility has created more than 700 jobs. The village is expected to attract even more people to the area. Current estimates are that 40 percent of the more than 3 million fans that visit Busch Stadium are from outside the region.
"There's this perception in some of the press we get nationally, as well as locally, that [St. Louis] is an unsafe place, there's nothing to do here, they roll up the sidewalks at 5 o'clock. ... This 100 percent turns that on its head," said Missy Kelley, CEO of The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis.
DeWitt III took a hands-on approach to ensure the village maximized its potential.
One rainy, windy day two years ago, DeWitt and Chase Martin, the development director for Cordish, sought to find the perfect location for the AT&T rooftop seats atop the Village. The two grabbed a camera and went up in a cherry picker.
"It was comical, because Chase thinks he's got some sort of technical skill and he's like, 'Come on, I know how to work this thing,'" DeWitt III said with a smile. "We got up there, and it was the dumbest thing I've probably done since high school, because it was clear that he was fumbling around at the controls."
"It was the two of us up in this cherry picker, probably 80, 90 feet in the air taking pictures to make sure we got it right," Martin said. "It was important that we got the location of the stands right. It's one of the few iconic sport development opportunities."
Two years later, DeWitt III believes they got the view -- and the rest of the Village -- right.
"I was always envious of teams that had either a facility or a surrounding environment that enhanced the gameday experience and also created an identity for fans, a brand that the franchise has that goes beyond just the baseball team," DeWitt III said. "It was already a great franchise; I think we've made it better, and probably the biggest part of that is what has happened on the field.
"But a lasting thing that will never change now is this facility and everything around it. The excitement, the buzz and the way it integrates to the city is something I think all St. Louisians can be proud of."