-Dave Peacock, Co-Chair St. Louis Stadium Task Force
How do you write an ode? How do you put your affections into words? How do you communicate the incommunicable sentiments that fill your heart? How do you express the intangible ideals that are inherent in your blood and guts and yet some how, some way, for some reason, cannot be shared with the world? Love. Longing. Dedication. Belief. Most of all belief. Why do we believe in things that we cannot see or touch? Why do we believe that the way that we we see the future is also the way that it is actually going to play out, that our version of the forthcoming is also the one that is eventually going to come true?
How do you quantify belief? How do you realize promise? How can you tell if your vision is worth following through on? Standing here, on the Western banks of the Mississippi River, under the Gateway Arch, I am struck by the paradox fundamentally imbedded into these deep-rooted thoughts, I am taken aback by contradiction present in these unanswered questions. Measuring the immeasurable is not an easy task anywhere; measuring the immeasurable is an impossible undertaking here, right here, right up against the edges of our nation’s most traveled thoroughfare. On one side nothing. Isolation. Decay. The broken down asphalt of emptiness; the broken down asphalt of what could have been; the broken down asphalt of what, seemingly, will never be.
The Gateway Arch is our ode to St. Louis. The Gateway Arch symbolizes the way in which we have put our affection for this place into reality. The Gateway Arch is how we communicate our incommunicable sentiments. The Gateway Arch is the tangible expression of the intangible ideals that fill our hearts whenever we think about the city that we are from. The Gateway Arch represents our love. The Gateway Arch demonstrates our longing. The Gateway Arch is a sign of our dedication. The Gateway Arch is the manifestation of our belief. Our belief in what St. Louis was. Our belief in what St. Louis is. Our belief in what St. Louis will be.
At one time in the past St. Louis was better than it is now. At one time in the future St. Louis will be better than it is now. The Gateway Arch proves one of those statements. The Gateway Arch gives us hope for the other. The Gateway Arch is evidence of realized promise. The Gateway Arch is proof that our vision is worth following through on. The Gateway Arch is a testament to the conviction that our version of the future is the one that is going to come true. The Gateway Arch validates the idea that St. Louis is a place that is worthy of being built back up towards greatness again.
Back then, way back when, way back in 1804, St. Louis became a place where American began a journey towards discovering itself. Back then, way back when, way back in 1965, St. Louis became a place where that journey and that discovery was remembered, where that journey and that discovery was celebrated, where the remnants of that journey and that discovery were stuck into the ground and left there to remain forever and always. Stuck in the ground and left there to remain for all times. Stuck in the ground and left there to remain, rising above the drifting river and reminding us that St. Louis was, at one point and time, the last bastion of civilization. That St. Louis was, at one point and time, the place where this part of the world started. That St. Louis was, at one point and time, the place where the rest of the world was considered to have begun.
In the 160 years between the Louisiana Purchase and the construction of the Gateway Arch St. Louis grew, and grew, and grew, transitioning from a bustling river village to a center for American industry and transportation. Steam Boats roamed across our river’s shores. Cable Cars ran for miles across newly paved streets. The World’s Fair took up most of Forest Park as the rest of the globe traveled to the jewel of the Midwest and reveled in the bustling metropolis flourishing around them. St. Louis was a city where people brewed beer. St. Louis was a city where steel was loaded onto barges and sent on its way floating around the nation. St. Louis was a city where all four quadrants of the country ran into each other. St. Louis was the place where North met South. St. Louis was the place where East met West. St. Louis was the place where America became connected to itself.
St. Louis is no longer that place. St. Louis hasn’t been that place for a long time. To many, St. Louis is a blip on the radar now, a lost train of thought in the country’s consciousness, an unidentifiable spec of flyover country in the 747 window as the cool kids hop on planes that are going from New York to LA, Boston to Seattle. St. Louis has lost its identity. St. Louis has lost its self-confidence. St. Louis has lost a part of its essence. St. Louis has lost the battle of public relations. St. Louis is now defined by the way it is perceived by the rest of the world.
St. Louis has been labeled by outsiders as a desolate landscape of extinction and blight. St. Louis has been labeled by many of its own as a dying city covered in disillusion and unstoppable ruin. St. Louis has carried these monikers around with it and has wrapped itself in their cocoon, allowing these descriptions to swallow its character whole and to change and distort and alter it until it has become unrecognizable to the people who love it, to the people who believe in what it can be. Many in St. Louis have allowed its past to become its present. Many in St. Louis have allowed these perceptions of the city to become its reality. Many in St. Louis have allowed the way in which their home is seen to become the way in which they see it too. Decaying. Rotting. Withering away. Something that is no longer worth the effort. Something that, no matter how hard we try, cannot be saved.
There is a reason why this opinion exists. St. Louis has its share of problems. Poorly performing and underfund schools. Outbreaks of violent crime. Too many cases of extreme poverty. Homelessness. Drug addiction. Substandard public transportation. Neighborhoods that are literally crumbling before their resident’s eyes. A widening income gap. A widening education gap. Racial disharmony. A declining population. A lack of empathy. Too many people who just don’t care anymore. Too many civic leaders who, despite their best intentions, just do not know what to do to make people care anymore. Too much apathy. Too little self-esteem.
Each of these questions needs to be answered. Each of these problems needs to be solved. They should not be minimized. They should not be glossed over. They should not be tossed away, or shrugged at, or forgotten about or marginalized. They are authentic. They are genuine. They are real. These issues need to be fixed in order for St. Louis to be what we want it to be. These issues need to be fixed in order for St. Louis to become whole again.
In all things the difference between what we need and what we want is, at its very core, a matter of degree. It’s a matter of perspective. It’s a matter of point of view. It is dependent on how we decide to see the world. It is dependent on what we think is necessary to live in the place that we see. It is dependent on what we want the place we live in, on what we want the world around us, to be. The world is an exceptionally large place. It is also a small one. A local one. One that we relate on a personal scale. One that starts and ends with the place that we call home.
I have a vision for the kind of city that I want St. Louis to be. I believe in the kind of city that St. Louis can be. I know in my heart the kind of city that St. Louis will be, if we decide to focus not only on the things that St. Louis needs, but the things that we want for it. If we decide to focus not only on the things that can make St. Louis better than it currently is, but the things that make St. Louis the best place it can be. If we decide to focus not only on plugging the existing holes in our civic and regional infrastructure, but on forging ahead with new and creative enterprises that can help return our city to prominence once again.
St. Louis needs progress. It can come in a variety of ways. It can come from a cornucopia of efforts. It can come through incremental and methodical development. It can come through drastic breakthroughs. It can be deliberate. It can be sudden. It can be all of the above. It can come by investing in the things we need. It can come by supplying our city with the things we want. There is no cart. There is no horse. There is no one thing that we cannot put in front of the other. There are only the things that can bring us forward. There are only the negative constraints of pessimism and doubt in our own city’s capabilities that are holding us back; that are obstructing our future goals; that are keeping our present rooted in its current circumstances; that are keeping us from seeing our way out from underneath their ever increasing weight.
Go and stand under the Gateway Arch. Crane your neck and look up at the bottom of its apex. Turn to the East and watch the Big River meandering its way on, slowly and sweetly drifting to the South, to New Orleans, to the Mississippi Delta, to the Gulf of Mexico and its exit point out of these United States of America and into the rest of the world. Now turn to the North. What do you see, past the strained development of Laclede’s Landing, past the flashing lights of the newly minted Lumiere Place and Casino and the Four Season’s Hotel, past the current home of your St. Louis Rams, the rising pillars of the Edward Jones Dome, its brick façade standing on the corner of Broadway and Convention under an outstretched marshmallow cream roof, under the part of the building that lends it its name, under the part of the building that, by definition, makes the structure a dome?
Is there beauty in an empty lot? Is there promise in a vacated and broken down edifice? Can you believe in a neglected and dilapidated and battered and ransacked square of the city that is uninhabited and unoccupied and unvisited and forsaken and destroyed and, in every way conceivable, lonely? Can you believe in a square of the city that is cut off from the rest of the world? Can you believe in a square off the city that is left to survive on its own devices, a square of the city that is left to exist or to crumble unnoticed and all alone?
St. Louis doesn’t need a new Riverfront Football Stadium, but St. Louis should want one, and we should want one for it, just like in 1965 St. Louis didn’t need a metallic semi-cycle built to commemorate a journey westward that had commenced more than a century and a half before, but St. Louis wanted one, and so we wanted to build one for it. And so we did build one for it. And so now we have a national treasure here in St. Louis. And so now we have a structure that the world knows us by. And so now we have a structure that shows the rest of the planet what we are capable of. And so now we have a structure that verifies to the rest of the planet that we are here. That St. Louis is alive. That St. Louis still has greatness inside of it.
A new Riverfront Football Stadium cannot be the Gateway Arch. A new Riverfront Football Stadium will not be the Gateway Arch. There is, and always will be, only one. A new Riverfront Football Stadium cannot, and will not try to, replicate our most city’s renowned shrine. A new Riverfront Stadium cannot, and will not attempt to, mirror our region’s most celebrated masterpiece.
A new Riverfront Stadium cannot, and will not endeavor to, clone our area’s most meaningful emblem. A new Riverfront Stadium can become a emblem of its own. A new Riverfront Stadium can stand for something new, something enhanced, something made better. A new Riverfront Stadium can stand for progress. A new Riverfront Stadium can stand for a belief that St. Louis is worth investing in; a belief that our city is worth making the hard choice, the proactive choice, the choice that with enough blood, sweat and tears we can accomplish something, the choice that with enough effort St. Louis can once again become as great as it ever.
Let’s move past all our hang ups: the economic debates, the political handwringing, the thought that building this stadium would—through its neglect of “bigger needs”—be sending the wrong message about our priorities, about what St. Louis is about. Let’s ignore our most adverse of notions: that a new Riverfront Stadium would be a sunk costs, a feeble attempt to revitalize an area that is already lost, that is already gone, that is already unworthy of the care and attention we are showing towards its development, towards making it a place where people would want to be again. Let’s deny the prevailing sentiment imbedded in our attempt to build a new Riverfront Stadium: we would not be building this stadium to subsidize an unnamed, and rightfully despised, super-hero movie villain of a billionaire complete with the total blood lust for money and a haircut that not even the most delusional of Great Clips Stylists would be content with claiming credit for.
We would be building this stadium to subsidize our city. We would be building this stadium to subsidize ourselves. We would be building this new Riverfront Stadium to, as our fearless leader Dave Peacock stated in the quote above, protect the future of our region. We would be building this new Riverfront Stadium to change how we are perceived. We would be building this new Riverfront Stadium to dispel the notion that we our assets can just dissolve in front of us, that they can leave our city whenever they want, to go wherever they want, and that there is nothing we can do to stop them. We would be building this new Riverfront Stadium to, most of all, fight for what is rightfully ours. St. Louis has been content to lose too much of itself. St. Louis should not be content to lose anything else that is rightfully ours. We never should have been in the first place. We certainly can’t be anymore.
It takes a lot of things for our version of the future to end up being the one that comes true. It takes a lot of things for the eternal promise of the places we love to eventually become realized. It takes sacrifice. It takes perspective. It takes money. It takes dedication. It takes a group of individuals, a community, coming together to understand that there is something out there that is bigger than themselves and their own singular interests. It takes a group of individuals, a community, coming together to understand that said bigger purpose is the one that they should be fighting for. It takes a group of individuals, a community, coming together to understand that said bigger purpose is embedded in the belief of what it can do to help our city to be.
Fulfillment of a vision requires belief. It requires it first. It requires it foremost. It requires it most of all. Belief fills our hearts with possibilities. Belief fills our minds with the ways in which we can bring those possibilities to reality. Belief compels our hands to take those ways, those methods, those philosophies, and cause them to physically exist, right here, right now, right in front of our eyes. Nothing is accomplished without first believing it is possible. Nothing is accomplished without first believing in your heart that, one day in the future, the aforementioned potential accomplishments will become realized; that the aforementioned potential accomplishments will become truth.
How do you write an ode? How do you put your affection into words? How do you express the intangible ideals that are inherent in your blood and guts and yet some how, some way, for some reason, cannot be shared with the world? Easy. You believe that the thing that you love can become the best version of itself. Then you fight with everything that you have to ensure that that’s the rendition of the future that is eventually going to become reality. That that’s the rendition of the future that is eventually going to become the present. That that’s the rendition of the future that is eventually going to come true.
Present day St. Louis is a tangible idea. Future day St. Louis is an intangible one. Its fate is in our hands. It is our job to shape it. It is our job to mold it. It is our job to make it the way that we want it to be. The question is: do we believe that St. Louis is the kind of city that can be, that deserves to be, great again?
Do we believe that St. Louis is the kind of city that can be, that deserves to be, saved? You may say that the new Riverfront Stadium will not save it. I say that there is nothing else that will.
Dave Peacock and his task force are trying to build an iconic stadium worthy of sharing the riverfront with the Gateway Arch. I say there is no better way to show the rest of the world, as well as to remind ourselves, exactly what it is that we want St. Louis to be.
I say there is no better way to show the rest of the world, as well as to remind ourselves, exactly what it is that we are fighting for.