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The Ultimate Aviary

The Cardinals’ new, tony Busch Stadium melds tradition and progress.

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With the exception of the Bronx Bombers (the New York Yankees to the baseball-impaired), the St. Louis Cardinals own Major League Baseball's most storied legacy. From Dizzy Dean and the scrappy "Gas House Gang" teams of the 1920s and '30s, through the quiet leadership of outfielder Stan "the Man" Musial, to the tape-measure home runs of Albert Pujols, the team's current slugging first baseman, the "Gateway City's" legendary diamond nine has maintained a love affair with its fans en route to its 16 pennants and nine World Series titles.

So, when team management decided to update the Cardinals stadium, it wanted confines (and signage) that honor tradition while respecting that today's spectator-sport audience demands entertainment value.

Team needs

Since 1966, the Cardinals have played in the prior incarnation of Busch Stadium, which had been built as a multi-purpose facility. The National Football League's St. Louis Cardinals played there until migrating to Arizona in 1988, and the current NFL Rams briefly played there before their own arena, the Edward Jones Dome, was finished in 1995.

Built for multiple sports (as well as concerts and other outdoor events), the stadium had sightlines that weren't tailored to baseball, where fan focus can shift instantaneously. The current park seats 43,975 — 10,000 to 15,000 fewer seats than the obsolete multi-use parks, but architecturally and aesthetically favorable for Doubleday's game.

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Bill DeWitt Jr., the team's senior vice president for business development, said the plethora of handsome, brick buildings that embellish downtown St. Louis, such as Louis Sullivan's Wainwright Building and the Union Station rail terminal, as well as the steel-truss Eads Bridge (which was built in 1874 to traverse the Mississippi River), inspired the character team ownership sought to create in its new, $365 million (90% bankrolled by team funds) ballpark.

"There are lots of parks out there with novelties like swimming pools and retractable roofs," he said. "Not to knock other teams' plans, but a Cardinal fan tends to be more of a baseball purist, and he wants an atmosphere that speaks to team history while addressing the necessary conveniences of a modern stadium."

Dewitt believed a fan-friendly ballpark required wider concourses, seats more proximal to the playing field and kid-friendly areas &emdash; not to mention a more charming façade than the cast concrete that encircled the former Busch Stadium.

If you build it…

Kansas City, MO-based stadia architect HOK Sport won the contract to build the new stadium. In 1993, the firm devised Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which spurred the transition from multi-use facilities to tailored, single-sport parks, as well as Coors Field, the home-run-friendly home of the Colorado Rockies, and the Pittsburgh Pirates' PNC Park.

Jim Chibnall, HOK SVE's principal and senior project designer, gleaned team management's desire for classic, brick-laden architecture. And, of course, given the team's trademark colors, a palette of reds served quite well. Another fan-friendly aspect, the opening of Clark St., which intersects the stadium entrance, affords greater opportunities for environmental graphics.

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Eleven life-size statues immortalize such icons as Lou Brock, the zephyr-like base-stealer supreme, and Joe Buck, whose silver tongue colored the action for generations of Cardinal fans.

Chibnall said signs should enjoy equal importance to all other architectural amenities.

"Signage is important for its practical role in instructing the visitor where to find key amenities, such as their seat section and the bathroom," he noted. "But, they also serve an aesthetic purpose through reinforcing the facility's architectural color and identity. All sign types unite within the stadium's composition."

Chibnall cited the logistical hurdle of constructing through Summer and Fall 2005 as the Cardinals marched into the postseason in their former home. Though he wasn't rooting against the Cardinals, he was mildly relieved when the Houston Astros ended the team's season last October in the National League Championship Series.

"At that point, we didn't have to worry any more about working around the gameday crowds," he said. "We configured the construction to maximize seats that could be installed prior to Opening Day. We were about 5,000 seats shy of completion when the stadium opened."

The new Busch Stadium is the crown jewel of a neighborhood-development project. HOK's St. Louis office is undertaking office, retail and residential development that's slated for groundbreaking in spring 2007.

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Diamond design

St. Louis-based Kiku Obata & Co. devised Busch Stadium's environmental graphics. Laura McCanna, the firm's project manager, said, "Historically, brick construction defines St. Louis architecture. We built on this tradition in a contemporary way by adding layers of detail to enhance the team brand and the fan experience."

All told, McCanna and the design team developed more than 1,800 graphic and sign elements. Among other elements, Kiku Obata provided personality to the premium-seating, club areas. Their work included:

• the Cardinals Club, which features a steel framework that surrounds cut-out, metal letters and the Cardinals' logo "floating" on glass, side panels:

• the Redbird Club which features an assemblage of past Cardinal logos against a baseball diamond;

• the Bank of America Club, which McCanna said represented "a nod to I-beam construction," subtly merges architecture with the Bank of America's logo; and

• the Coca-Cola Scoreboard patio, which features an array of waving flags and an old-school sports ambience.

On the stadium's terrace level, the design team specified 8 ft. x 6 in.-tall, halo-lit, red and silver channel letters bracketed by Cardinal logos. An open-air, structural-steel framework supports the letters and follows the curves of the northwest, southwest and southeast stadium corners.

McCanna and the team's handiwork also embellished the ballpark's many premium concessions. El Birdos Cantina, the onsite Mexican-food vendor, features a sombrero- and serape-clad cardinal swinging a maraca as if socking a baseball.

In a similar connotation, the Riverview Corner, a bar situated in the dining-area plaza, employs spokes reminiscent of a steamboat paddlewheel traversing the mighty Mississippi. The spanning signs reside over the vendors' stands, and are flanked by blade signs that also display the logo.

Bird-watching signage

HOK SVE contracted Scottsdale, AZ-based Hunt Construction, via its Indianapolis-based Midwestern branch, to undertake the stadium's construction phase — Hunt's work included coordinating the work of various subcontractors, which entailed working with the signage fabricators, DVS Signs (Coatesville, PA) and St. Louis-based Warren Signs.

John McCurdy, DVS' vice president of sales and marketing and a 22-year industry veteran, said one sign-program roadblock was very elemental &emdash; determining its name.

"Even though the team has a long tradition of playing in Busch Stadium, it was in doubt for a while that this would be the new stadium's name," he said. "There was some competition for the naming rights, and A.G. Edwards [a St. Louis-based brokerage firm] stayed in the running for a long time. When we fabricated the package, we did initial package drawings as "Cardinal Field" because we weren't sure which would prevail. Eventually, Anheuser Busch stepped up and paid for the naming rights."

DVS handled the main-ID, Budweiser sign that looms at 120 ft. x 24 ft. x 9 in. over the main scoreboard. The channel letters and logo entail 12-in.-deep, fabricated aluminum affixed to angle-iron stringers, and they're illuminated with 15mm, exposed-neon tubing. Naturally, ruby red was the color of choice for the Budweiser logo and birds. The 16-in.-deep, non-illuminated clock sports 3-D numerals and letters. Fabricated-aluminum flags atop decorative finials add an old-school touch.

Though DVS offered LEDs to illuminate the backlit channel letters, the team quickly halted the discussion.

"The Cardinals wanted a retro look, and exposed neon was really the only option they would consider," he said.

The Cardinals' memorabilia stores became a unique graphic showcase. DVS developed a curved-channel, aluminum frame that envelops a cast-resin, 36-in.-diameter baseball with cast stitches and acrylic-polyurethane paint accents. Spot-lights installed within the canopy's corners provide a dramatic effect.

DVS contracted Lois Ingrum, a St. Louis-based industrial project manager, to oversee the signage progress. Much of Ingram's prior work had entailed interior, fine-art installations, but she took her crash course in stride.

"There were so many different tradesmen working on the stadium's construction, it was definitely a challenge to keep things coordinated," Ingrum said. "Whether it was making sure a wall, where a sign was scheduled for installation, was painted and dried, or making sure we had access to a specific area, building relationships is key to the success of such a large job."

Warren Sign, a full-service sign company that's called St. Louis home since 1929, fabricated Busch Stadium's advertising signage, such as the Hardee's neon sign above the roof of an upper-deck concession stand that faces the third-base side of the field.

Keith Hempen, Warren's art director, created an electronic flashing sequence for the sign that, when started (most often after a home run), launches a festive sequence of stars &emdash; a key part of the fast-food chain's logo &emdash; into a brightly colored, frenzied "race."

According to Brian Ballok, a senior Warren designer, the company managed, designed and installed more than 65 displays before opening day. They ranged from a 160-ft.-long, Scotch-print™ Bud Light graphic that Warren applied to the pressbox roof in 4-ft. sections, to a 24 34-ft. Ford Mustang display that features four, LED-lit headlamps. Acrylic, flexible-face material Tri–Vision® changeable boards scroll through myriad advertisers. To decorate the boards, Warren used a CMYK, thermal-transfer printer before applying a pressure-sensitive laminate.

What's the score?

Once spectators have reached their seats, stadia scoreboards become the off-the-field focal point. In addition to the count of balls and strikes and the batters' batting average, fans enjoy watching replays of sharply hit doubles and breathtaking grabs by centerfielder Jim Edmonds in high resolution.

However, baseball also possesses a rich history, and, as with other ballpark facets, fans enjoy recognition of the game's bygone eras. To this end, Busch Stadium patrons enjoy the best of both worlds — state-of-the-art graphics as well as a replica of a hand-operated scoreboard of yesteryear.

Daktronics Inc. (Brookings, SD) constructed the main and complementary, LED scoreboards. The system included a 32 x 52-ft., ProStar® VideoPlus replay screen that features 416 388-pixel resolution; an 8 x 52-ft. Galaxy® board that conveys the score and inning recap, and twin, 21 x 34-ft. Galaxy boards that recap the starting line-ups and player stats. Around the outfield perimeter, a 15 x 80-ft., RGB screen displays advertisers and out-of-town scores, and various horizontal RGB and monochrome boards display statistics, and advertising and fan-participation messages. Daktronics partnered with Keyframe's Brookings office to develop the boards' creative content.

Darren Benike, Daktronics' project manager, acknowledged the challenge of coordinating the installations with the construction process. Most board installations occurred between January and March 2006 — as logistical priorities such as crane placement, weather and construction priorities allowed.

Busch Stadium also features the original, hand-operated scoreboard from the old park, which is now on display above the new Busch's food court. Hempen originally crafted the display in 1997 after having browsed archives of Sportsman's Park and other historic stadia. In stark contrast to the new-generation boards, this one requires an operator to mount placards that indicate each inning's tally and operate lamps that indicate the balls, strikes and outs.

Transporting the boards from the old stadium to the new wasn't a small task. According to Ballok, the company's installers engineered the move by dismantling the board in 24 sections and outlining detailed blueprints that documented where the components would be reconstructed.

"Keeping the scoreboards allows the fan to reflect on team and stadium history," Hempen said.

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