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Got an idea about the Arch? It's time to share it

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 8, 2013 - Got ideas for more things you’d like to see and do on the grounds beneath the Gateway Arch? Suggestions for making the riverfront and Kiener Plaza more attractive and fun? Thoughts about improving parking and making it easier to get to those places?

If so, it’s not too late for you to be heard.

Great Rivers Greenway, working with the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation, is seeking citizens from throughout the region to join a citizen advisory committee of up to 30 members to do just that.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old and live in one of the seven Missouri or Illinois counties in the metro area.

Susan Trautman, executive director at Great Rivers Greenway, said committee members would be selected based in part on demographic and geographic representation, and on interests such as bicycling, parks and open spaces, the culture and history of the area.

“Our focus is on improving the quality of life for the St. Louis region and the best way to do this is by working in partnership with residents,” she said.

“We need people who are interested and committed to helping us make St. Louis a better place to live.”

Anyone who applies must, indeed, make a commitment. That includes serving on the committee for not less than three years and attending what likely will be monthly meetings. Subcommittee members likely will meet more often.

Initially, Trautman said, committee members will be briefed to get them “up to speed” on details and progress of the $550 million plan to invigorate the Arch grounds -- and connect both the Missouri and Illinois sides of the Mississippi River. CityArchRiver is overseeing the project; Great Rivers Greenway is taking on part of it.

After initial briefings, she said, “we’ll get into asking committee members questions to get imput. What activities and uses do people need to have on the Arch grounds and the riverfront? What about the visitors’ experience from the time you get there? The need to park, to find your way, to get something to eat?”

The focus area, she said, will be the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial that includes the Arch grounds, the Old Courthouse and Luther Ely Smith Park, as well as the riverfront, the park that will span traffic separating the memorial from downtown, and Kiener Plaza.

To make sure the committee’s ideas get to the planners, she said, staff members and other people working on the plan will attend the citizen committee meetings. Included will be representatives from CityArch River, the National Park Service, and the Michael Van Valkenburg Associates team that won a design contest for the project in 2010. Their intent is to finish it by 2015, the 50th anniversary of the topping out of the Arch.

“Depending on topics at the meeting, staff members from our partners in this will be at the meetings listening and taking notes. Then later,” Trautman said, “the staff members will come back to the meetings” to show how the committee suggestions and recommendations are being incorporated.

“We will all be there together working together on this,” Trautman said.

Added Maggie Hales, executive director at CityArchRiver in a statement:

“The members joining this committee have a unique opportunity to be a part of a historic project that will forever change the front door of the St. Louis region.”

Great Rivers Greenway, established by voters and supported in part with tax money, has been working since 2000 to build connecting parks, biking trails, walking trails and other amenities throughout the region.

It has already set aside about $10 million in its budget –  about a third of the cost – for making improvements along the riverfront. That is part of the big-picture plan to improve the Arch grounds and surrounding areas on the Missouri side of the river, estimated to cost $380 million.

Trautman said her organization plans to get the remaining two-thirds of the money for riverfront improvements in private and federal dollars. The riverfront plan includes raising Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard to reduce flooding, building a connection with a bike trail to the Greenway system along Sullivan, a promenade and staging area, and access to riverboats and businesses along the riverfront.

Great Rivers Greenway now receives about $10 million a year in local tax money. On April 2, residents in St. Louis and St. Louis County will vote on a proposed 3/16ths of a one-cent sales tax increase, sometimes called the “Arch tax,” that would boost what Great Rivers Greenways receives. The Green Rivers Greenway would get about 60 percent of the tax revenue for the Arch and other projects. The rest of the tax money would go to other local parks in the city and St. Louis County.

If the tax is approved, the organization would get about $9 million more a year for district projects and an additional $9 million or so a year for certain projects on and around the Arch grounds. The $9 million would be leverage for a bond issue to generate about $90 million. That would help pay for projects such as improvements at Kiener Plaza and the Old Courthouse, linking the Arch grounds to the riverfront, and expanding the Museum of Westward Expansion beneath the Arch.

Some have expressed concern that if voters approve the tax increase, the public wouldn’t have a say in how the money is spent.

Trautman, and others, note that for years the Park Service and CityArchRiver  have been inviting the public to meetings and open houses to review and comment on the overall plan that the tax increase money would help pay for.

“There’s already been a lot of feedback” from the public, she said. “This advisory committee is just part of what’s been happening all along.”

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