Every team with much history in the NHL has fond memories of their former arenas. However, it is hard to wonder what might have been if the St. Louis Blues had not been forced to tear down theirs.
When the St. Louis Blues revamped what was then the Kiel Center (formerly Kiel Auditorium), I was at an age where I did not fully understand what was going on. I got the fact the Blues would be moving to a new arena, but I never saw what was wrong with the old one.
It did have an odor and was dimly lit, but I did not have the comprehension of anything better yet. I was young enough where the width of the seats did not matter.
Concession amenities were of no concern. My parents or my brother would buy the food or soda or whatever, so what did it matter if all you had was stereotypical food?
My only experience with Kiel to that point was going to a WWF show there. I was too young for that too, since I had to have my mom stuff my ears with kleenex to stop me crying because it was too loud.
Once Kiel opened for business for the Blues, however, it became more apparent why they changed. Everything was so new and clean and bright.
There were food choices that you did not really know belonged at hockey games prior to that. By now, we’re so used to there being pizza and loaded nachos or even Asian or Mexican food that we forget it was not always that way.
Many of us quickly embraced the Kiel Center. We forgot our old arena the way a child discards an old toy for whatever is shiny and new.
It was not until I got older that the memories stuck with me more. I remember going to St. Louis Storm (indoor soccer) and Blues games at the Old Barn.
My brother and I were fortunate enough to go to a Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks at the Arena. I was of an age where I simply thought it was cool that there was a fight in the concourse and shouting matches in the bathrooms.
The fact there were cats roaming the arena after events was fascinating. The only thing I did not miss was the trough urinals – never quite got that.
But the sad thing was all we were given were memories. The building itself is history, covered with a parking lot and what amounts to an upscale industry park.
However, while progress can rarely be stopped, the question now is more why it needed to be torn down. Likely it amounts to property value being higher if companies could build new facilities, but there was a movement to save the Arena.
However, what if the St. Louis Arena was never destroyed? While it is understandable why it was – $$ – it was not completely necessary.
The decision to destroy the Arena was shortsighted, with hindsight as our guide. There were other options.
The city could have renovated it and kept it as is. It could have housed basketball tournaments or provided an extra option should St. Louis have ever seriously pursued an NBA team.
That was unlikely, since renovating a building that old would have cost serious money. Additionally, if no team is there, how many events would actually go into the Arena? Kansas City already has that problem as there’s basically nothing in the Sprint Center. They have the Big 12 Tournament and concerts. They were smart enough to lure in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame though.
However, another option would be what Montreal did with the Montreal Forum. Granted, the inside of the building is quite different now, but they essentially turned a little section of the facility into a museum dedicated to the Canadiens.
The rest of the building is used as a movie theater, restaurants and general gathering areas. I have been there and that is what I would have wanted for the St. Louis Arena.
To turn the place into an entertainment facility actually would have been perfect given what the area has morphed into. There are lofts and hotels in the area as well as places to work.
The Science Center is in that vicinity. Even the new IKEA is not but a few offramps away.
The entire purpose of that area is to draw in a younger population that wants to live, work and play in a centralized area. What better way to unite them than with a place that provides eateries and entertainment, but also offers an historical value?
Personally, I would have loved it if the Arena was just left or revamped a little, even for tours. Just to get that feeling again of sitting on top of all the action of the past. Yes, there was always a vague fear of falling down the upper-deck stairs and there being too much momentum to stop yourself, but that’s just part of the experience.
However, something similar to what Montreal did would have been fantastic. A floor mimicking ice with the Blues logo right where center-ice used to be.
You know there are enough fans in the area that have multiple seats to where they would donate some to provide a section’s worth. You could have video walls showing Brett Hull highlights or stations where you could listen to old audio of Dan Kelly or Ken Wilson.
All those random cases of memorabilia, that we carelessly pass by without a second glance in Enterprise Center, could be prominently showcased. We could learn more about when St. Louis had an ABA basketball team or about all the professional wrestling events that happened at The Arena.
You could have had parties in there. There could have been game rooms and perhaps even an indoor bowling alley, like at the Forum.
It could have been fantastic – a real way to bring people together around the hockey team outside of just going to games. If only.
Sadly, the mayor was more interested in simply tearing it down. Montreal had enough people with the foresight to declare their site a national historic site. St. Louis really had no interest in going through with that.
The maddening part is they could have learned from Montreal. They converted their arena in 1998. The Blues old home was demolished in 1999.
Given St. Louis politics and the way society in general works these days, perhaps it would have gone the way of Union Station. Apparently, even the Forum is falling on hard times.
Perhaps there are not enough people like myself that like that feeling of walking through places where history has happened. Even though I am still relatively young, I have always liked that idea of knowing great things happened where I might be standing.
In the end, we’ll never know. The Arena is no more and all we are left with is our what ifs.