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Salazar announces stimulus money to improve Arch and Old Courthouse

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 10, 2009 - Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said on Friday that improvements to the Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse funded by the stimulus package would create jobs, boost the local economy and increase tourism in the area.

The Interior Department, he said, was also finalizing its General Management Plan for improving the Arch grounds. Details were sketchy beyond a likely design competition for revitalizing the Arch grounds and the riverfront, and building a more accessible connection between the Arch and the city.

Salazar was in St. Louis with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to visit the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and to meet with local congressional staffers and Mayor Francis Slay.

Salazar, who spoke at the Old Courthouse, said $4.1 million will go toward a new roof for the Old Courthouse. About $3.7 million -- $947,000 from the stimulus and the rest from federal funding committed last year -- will fund repairs to the Arch's tramway controls.

Work on the new roof for the courthouse will begin in six months, but the tramway has already been assigned to a contractor, meaning St. Louis can expect to see jobs "right now."

The projects, he said, will create "thousands of jobs" by way of construction and improved tourism. The Interior Department has $3 billion in stimulus funds for economic recovery projects like the upgrades to the Arch and courthouse. Salazar said projects getting stimulus money must create jobs immediately, for example through construction, and also down the road through indirect means, like tourism.

"This is part of telling America's story here," Salazar said. "We are making significant investments in one of the major job creation opportunities we have in this country, and that's through tourism."

More than 2.4 million people visit the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial each year, spending $10 million in the local economy. Salazar also said more than 6.5 million jobs were created last year just from outdoor recreation and tourism.

McCaskill took a jab at critics of the stimulus package, who she said were ruling out the effectiveness of the stimulus too early. "The naysayers out there want to write the story of the stimulus when only about 140 days have passed since the stimulus began," McCaskill said. "This is an 18-month program."


Salazar also said he hopes to see a final design for the Arch ground improvements "as soon as we possibly can." He didn't offer specifics, but said the plans must connect St. Louis residents to "not only the city, but also the Arch grounds."

McCaskill said in an interview that officials agree they need to do something to improve access and reinvigorate the Arch grounds, but she said no decision had been made on how to do that. "We've agreed we need to do that, and we need to do a design competition and make sure that whatever is selected is appropriate and deferential to the Arch," McCaskill said.

Tom Bradley, superintendent of the Arch, said the Park Service will have a final decision out to the public by November.

Sandra Washington, chief of planning and compliance for the NPS Midwest Regional Office, said she looked forward to the design competition. "We are going to be able to take a look at all kinds of fabulous, exciting ideas for designing and reinvigorating the Arch grounds."


When asked about the recently enacted law that would let people carry concealed weapons in national parks if they were in states that allow conceal-carry, Salazar said his department was looking into how to "implement the will of the legislation in a way that makes common sense."

With reference to special events on the Arch grounds, Bradley said guns won't be allowed on Arch grounds for another 10 months, and no guns will be allowed in the Arch itself.

McCaskill downplayed potential safety problems.

"I'm less concerned today than I probably would have been five or 10 years ago, when I believed carrying concealed weapons in Missouri was going to cause a lot of problems that, frankly, haven't come to pass," McCaskill said in the interview.

"Frankly there's probably more supervision on the parks grounds than there is in other places, so I don't think it's going to make any difference," McCaskill added.

Puneet Kollipara, an intern at the Beacon, is a student at Washington University.