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Ballpark Village gets final state approval

Seven years and two false starts later, the long-delayed Ballpark Village has gotten approval from the state of Missouri.

Today's nod from the Missouri Development Finance Board allows the St. Louis Cardinals and the site's developer, the Cordish Companies, to sell $17 million worth of bonds, which will fund the infrastructure at the 10-acre site.

Cordish and the Cardinals have already announced plans to purchase those bonds - a move team president Bill DeWitt III said helped secure the needed political approvals.

"We had always figured that these bonds would be marketable, " DeWitt said. "Could we sell these bonds down the road? Maybe. But eliminating that uncertainty by committing to buy them ourselves we think was a key factor in convincing some of the public members who have been so helpful that we were for real and we were ready to go again after having a few false starts."

DeWitt called the long process "challenging," and acknowledged that fans were initially promised that Ballpark Village would be completed by the 2009 All-Star Game.

"They're free to be skeptical for another couple of months," DeWitt said to laughter. "You can't be skeptical if we're out there with shovels."

A groundbreaking for the first phase - 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space - is scheduled for late fall. It's supposed to be open by Opening Day 2014.

The development director of the Cordish Companies, Chase Martin, said 80 percent of that first phase is leased. And he said office, retail and residential users have expressed interest in later phases.

"Any progress, or any new development, once you see shovels in the ground and cranes, that promotes a lot of excitement amongst tenants. So I think there will be a lot of interest, and some of these conversations that we've had over the years will pick up once we start turning dirt," Martin said.

An Anheuser-Busch beer garden, a Cardinals museum and restaurant, and a new outdoor concert venue are all confirmed for the first phase. Martin says other tenants will be announced in the coming weeks.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.