Messenger: CityPark is the new gem of St. Louis, and it can spark a bright revival

As Mayor Tishaura O. Jones was extoling the progress of the city she leads, I was experiencing it at a restaurant with some new friends.


It was Tuesday night, and my wife and I were sitting at The Pitch Athletic Club & Tavern, the new soccer-themed restaurant at Union Station. It sits across the street from CityPark, the soccer stadium built by the Taylor family and other investors. We were going to the U.S. Open Cup match that night between St. Louis City SC and Union Omaha.

The Pitch was packed, as was Maggie O’Brien’s next door — so much so that we had to ask another couple if we could share their table. We were strangers, enjoying drinks and appetizers before the game. We drove in from Wildwood. The other couple — retired educators — came in from Edwardsville. A friend of mine stood at the table sipping whiskey. He took the MetroLink from his home in the Central West End.

We had little in common with the other couple except for our shared love of soccer. What a scene, we all agreed. What a boon for the city.

It was a midweek game against a lesser opponent, where mostly substitutes were going to start. But City SC still drew a record crowd for a third-round Open Cup game, with 22,400 people enjoying the city’s new gem.

A couple of miles to the west, during her State of the City address, Jones was asking her fellow citizens to join her “upstream,” as the city tries to forge a new future rather than recreate its past.

“We can wrap our arms around our communities and provide opportunities for everyone to thrive,” Jones said. “A thriving community is a healthy community with less crime — like the one I grew up in — where you could play outside until the streetlights came on. That is the future every child in St. Louis deserves.”

I can’t speak for my new 22,399 friends who watched a 5-1 victory. But at the dinner table at Maggie O’Brien’s, none of us were talking about crime. As my wife and I walked to the game from a parking lot near Enterprise Center, we passed two young women dressed to the nines. They were heading in the opposite direction, to the Lizzo concert at Enterprise Center.

There were crowds on the streets for various venues — a far cry from the rhetoric coming from Republicans in Jefferson City, with their fearmongering over crime and suggestions that nobody will come downtown.

They are wrong. High-profile incidents drive their narrative, and last week’s murder in Kiener Plaza or Friday’s shooting of a police officer near Forest Park are recent examples. But despite those and other tragic moments of gun violence, crime in St. Louis is actually down year-over-year in key categories. More than any police strategy that new Chief Robert Tracy may be directing, I credit soccer for contributing to the momentary trend in the right direction.

Like an aggressive midfielder, CityPark has claimed vacant space on the pitch, filled it with numbers and pushed forward, er, upstream. People are heading to the city from the far reaches of the region, and they are loving it.

Mayors and sports fans share a common bond. They tend to see things through rose-colored, or, dare I say, City Red-colored glasses. So yes, in a State of the City speech everything looks good. And as a fan of the first-place St. Louis City Soccer Club, I am overly optimistic about this expansion team.

The team has flaws, as does the city. But at this moment, I want to celebrate success.

One of the things I enjoy doing when I visit other towns is finding a rooftop bar at night and taking in the view from up high. There is a beauty and vibrancy to the lights, architectural lines and sounds of a city at night. So it was after the City game on Tuesday. My wife and I stood on the upper veranda of the stadium, outside the Ultra Club, looking east over the city.

There was The St. Louis Wheel, lit up in a formerly vacant parking lot; historic Union Station with crowds bustling past it on Market Street; a packed Enterprise Center; the Arch in the distance. It was all framed in the City Red hue emanating from the soccer stadium.

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