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New Gateway Mall Conservancy turns its attention to renewing Gateway Mall

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 12, 2010 - The new Gateway Mall Conservancy board, which will plan, design, pay for and complete changes to the swath of land that runs from Union Station east to the Old Courthouse, met for the first time on Friday.

The group is expected to use the Gateway Mall master plan, approved last year, as a blueprint for updates to the mall. It will have the authority to review any proposed expansion, modification, replacement, relocation, adaptive re-use, or removal of existing roads, paths, parking lots, recreation areas or natural areas.

Mayor Francis Slay said the board will work to take advantage of the momentum started by the opening of Citygarden last summer.

"This board is made up of individuals who can provide executive, civic, and fundraising energy and leadership," he said. "They each have already contributed to our community in so many ways."

On the board are Peter Fischer, Gateway Foundation; Robert Archibald, Missouri Historical Society; Steve Cousins, Armstrong Teasdale LLP; John Ferring, Plaze Inc.; David Mesker, retired, A.G. Edwards; Emily Rauh Pulitzer, Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts; Kitty Ratcliffe, St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission; Henry S. Webber, Washington University; Josephine Weil, community volunteer; and Patricia Roland-Hamilton as executive director.

Slay also named members of a Gateway Mall advisory board, which is expected to have its first meeting next month.

On that board are A.J. Bruning, Downtown Residents Association; Jack Reis, EVS Realty; John Sondag, AT&T; Pat Shannon, Shannon's Restaurant; Byron Marshall, Union Station; Waller McGuire, St. Louis Public Library; Steve Smith, The Lawrence Group; Mike Kocielo, Entertainment St. Louis; Andy Trivers, Trivers & Associates; Chris Fannin, HOK; Sarah Smith, Community Development Ventures; Mike Kinman, Christ Church Cathedral; Steve Patterson, Urban Review; and Les Sterman, downtown resident.

Serving in an ex-officio capacity will be Pete Rothschild, Red Brick Management; 6th Ward Alderman Kacie Starr-Triplett; 7th Ward Alderman Phyllis Young; Don Roe, St. Louis Planning & Urban Design; Gary Bess, director of Parks, Recreation & Forestry; Maggie Campbell, Partnership for Downtown St. Louis; Ann Chance, Special Events Manager; Lynnea Magnuson, Soldier's Memorial; and Patricia Roland-Hamilton, Gateway Mall Conservancy.

Read the Beacon's earlier story about the Gateway Mall master plan below.


The new Citygarden that's been attracting thousands to what had been grassy dead space in the Gateway Mall might well be the beginning of the end -- the end, that is, for a decades-long, sometimes embattled quest to finish the entire 1.2 mile-long mall from the Gateway Arch west past Union Station.

Even as workers moved dirt and sculptures around Citygarden, a solid foundation -- unlike anything before -- was being laid to enliven the rest of the mall.

Project director Patricia Roland-Hamilton has been meeting with city officials and property owners up and down the mall. She's organizing two new public-private groups: an advisory board to oversee the plan's implementation and a conservancy, similar to Forest Park Forever, to pull together public and private money to build and maintain what's likely coming. The total estimated cost -- including maintenance endowments but minus more than $30 million for Citygarden -- is just over $115 million.

Rather than the piecemeal, sometimes controversial approaches of the past, she says, this latest approach is based on pulling folks together to focus on finishing the mall. That's an important element in a $450,000 plan, done primarily by Urban Strategies Inc. in Toronto and Thomas Balsley Associates in New York, and paid for by the St. Louis-based Gateway Foundation.

"We wanted to make sure it was something doable, and not just to be dreamed about," said Thomas Balsley, the firm's founder.

Already two projects are moving forward:

  • A new beach volleyball court near 16th and Market streets, built by the city's Department of Parks Recreation & Forestry, is the first new attraction envisioned for a three-block-long "neighborhood room" in that part of the mall.
  • Later this year, $200,000 worth of new lighting will be installed at Carl Milles' fountain in Aloe Plaza.

Those projects, Roland-Hamilton said, "are a start, something we can do now, and capitalize on the momentum created by Citygarden."
But consider a sampling of other projects on the drawing boards:

  • A no-longer-sunken Kiener Plaza with new features, such as a moveable, solar-paneled "sculpture" that would be a bandshell for a new stage and generate electricity.
  • A "hallway" along the entire south side of the mall with a bicycle path, separate walkway and rows of trees to link the blocks physically and visually and encourage folks to use the mall.
  • Outdoor reading rooms near a pond and grove of trees for programs sponsored by the St. Louis Public Library. It would be part of a "civic room" in a widened part of the mall designed to tie together the library, Soldier's Memorial and Kiel Opera House, among others. "We are very interested in reaching out and doing things in the mall like story time for children, performances and speakers for adults," said Waller McGuire, the library's executive director. "It's an amazing space, like a front yard for the library, and not many cities have a resource like this."

McGuire adds that the project "presents lots of challenges, but also a lot of opportunities,” but "it looks like finally there’s progress.” That view is shared by James Cloar, president and CEO of the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis and interim president of the yet-to-be-formed Gateway Mall Conservancy.
"One key thing about the plan is that it gives almost as much attention to implementation and management as it does to the physical things planned," Cloar said.

The mall today, he said, is "a vastly underused resource and a barrier that divides downtown."

Citygarden, he said, exemplifies how that could change. "Now you see lots of people and energy in Citygarden. It's gone from a dead space to one that's really alive."

Here are some of the highlights of the master plan.

Kiener Plaza: Up to street level

HOK's Planning Group sketched ideas for redoing Kiener Plaza. Like all projects in the city-owned mall from here on, this one, estimated at $30 million, would need the blessings of a Gateway Mall advisory board (soon to be appointed by Mayor Francis Slay) and various city agencies.


Tyler Meyr, senior associate at HOK's Planning Group, said the "dynamic solar object, or sculpture" above the stage could provide power for lighting and electric cars parked near the plaza. The sculpture would be in one position to alert visitors about performances, and in another position when nothing was going on. Kiener Plaza's two blocks would be connected into one, and a raised "mound" would house a glassed-in cafe and visitors center.

The existing sunken configuration "takes all the activity and hides it," Meyr said. "We want to bring it up to street level."

Serra sculpture: Call for information

West of Citygarden is the block with the "Twain" sculpture by Richard Serra. The plan says the city is fortunate to have the sculpture, but it is "misunderstood," and the space around it could be improved.

"I don't think people understand it," Roland-Hamilton said, "and there's nothing there to explain it."

She and Emily Rauh Pulitzer, founder of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, talked recently about improvements. Pulitzer was part of a group that commissioned Serra to do the piece, installed in 1982.

One idea is to inform visitors about "Twain" the way they learn about sculptures at Citygarden -- by dialing a number on a cell phone. "I think that would be a great solution," Pulitzer said.

As plans progress, Pulitzer says she wouldn't want trees on the block to interfere with views from inside the sculpture. Any paved walking paths should follow paths made by "Twain" visitors, as Serra wished, she added.

'Civic room': Open for events

On the block across from City Hall, the mall would widen, and the three-block-long "civic room" would begin.

Roland-Hamilton estimates that $300 million is being invested in restoration projects, including the Kiel Opera House, the library, Soldier's Memorial and the Lawrence Group's Park Pacific apartments. The "civic room," in the center, would be a large unified space for events and festivals, perhaps with fountains and pavilions.

The first project there, Roland-Hamilton said, likely will be a permanent covered stage on two blocks between City Hall and Park Pacific, at an estimated cost of $8 million. Even now, with no facilities, events such as Taste of St. Louis and the Komen Race for the Cure use the space, attracting a million or so visitors a year.

"It could handle music, theater, awards ceremonies, music festivals, pop concerts. You could bring a blanket, lay on the lawn and enjoy it right smack in the middle of downtown," said Steve Smith, president and chief executive at the Lawrence Group.

Another supporter of the plan is Paul J. McKee Jr., president and CEO at McEagle Properties, part of the group planning to reopen the Kiel Opera House.

McKee, who describes the mall plan as "awesome," has talked with Roland-Hamilton about improving the block in front of the Opera House. "That block is really important to the Opera House," he said, "and we even said we would take care of it" if it gets redone.

'Neighborhood room': Play time

Next is the three-block-long "neighborhood room." It would replace mostly unused open space with beach volleyball court -- and possibly an interactive fountain, children's playgrounds, restrooms and a food kiosk, even urban tree houses and an urban dog run.

'Terminus' block: no longer a dead end

After Aloe Plaza, with the Milles fountain, the mall's "terminus" block could be enlivened by perhaps a lighted "dramatic sculptural viewing mound" and an urban park on the west side of the mound suitable for skateboarding or rock climbing.


McKee also has a vision for that area near the 22nd Street exit from Interstate 64.

"It is a crime that (the mall) ends with a 25-foot hole in the ground. Our proposal is to fill in the hole, raise 22nd Street to grade," McKee said, and build office, retail and residential buildings "to wrap around the end of the mall."


What's next?


The city parks department hired Roland-Hamilton, also president of the Central West End Association, to work on the mall plan. The Gateway Foundation helps pay for her salary. 

"If I had to guess," she said, the plan could be finished in six to eight years, "depending on the economy."

Balsley, one of the plan's authors, said he thinks the most important projects are Citygarden, the "hallway" and Kiener Plaza. "Those would have a huge impact," he said.

His firm also has designed a "ground connector" to link the mall with the Gateway Arch, but it's not part of the mall plan.

Even so, Balsley said: "We'd love to see the connector and the mall proceed. We think the connector is a natural extension of the mall. Millions of people go to the Arch grounds now, but they don't come into downtown."

Charlene Prost, a freelance writer in St. Louis, has long covered downtown development.