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Opinions Vary On Impact Of Arch Riverfront Construction

Ed Lammering wore his top hat to a groundbreaking last month beside the Gateway Arch, but left his horse, Lukes, at the St. Louis Carriage Company’s stable on the other side of Busch Stadium.  He held a sign which read, “Where do we stand? – carriage drivers.”

The carriage company is among several businesses that have concerns about the impact of the $360 million CityArchRiver 2015 project. Work will include expanding the Arch grounds over Interstate 70, carving out a new central entrance for the underground museum and numerous other major improvements.

But many local carriage drivers, like Lammering, who make their living giving rides below the Arch are wondering what will happen to business during the two years of construction work.

“Right now, myself and about 49 other drivers feel like our business is going to get hurt,”said Lammering who has been driving carriages in St. Louis for about 10 years.

Arch Grounds Upgrades Underway

The riverfront component of the project involves elevating Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard, which lies between the Arch and the Mississippi River, by roughly 2.5 feet to reduce flooding. The street is slated to be cut off during construction. The southern stretch from the Arch staircase to Chouteau Avenue will be closed until next September at which time the northern stretch up to Biddle Street will close until the following year.

Credit CityArchRiver 2015

Lammering said he looks forward to seeing much-needed improvements along the riverfront, but waiting in the meantime could be devastating for business.  About half his fares come from Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard, he said, which can sometimes have 15 to 20 carriages lined up at one time.

Fellow driver Daemon Bernstein, who often picks up passengers six blocks north on Laclede’s Landing, adds that because the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission limits where carriages can park in the city, restrictions below the Arch could jam areas elsewhere.

“You add a dozen carriages downtown when you’ve already got eight or 10 downtown, you’re going to have a lot of starving carriage drivers,” he said.

Time Will Tell

A number of other small business owners near the Arch are also expecting to be affected during the redevelopment project.

Tom Dunn, director of Gateway Riverboat Tours says he’s had to relocate his attendant to the north side of Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard to help direct visitors to the levee where the company’s two boats are moored.

“It will take some adjustment after 200 years,” he said referring to how long it’s been since French explorers first landed on the riverfront.

Dunn says he’s less concerned, however, because developers have made efforts to ensure visitors still have access to the levee.

“Time will tell,” he said. “We do anticipate, obviously, that there will probably be fewer visitors to the Arch. Probably a smaller percentage than would ordinarily be the case.”

Ryan Loeffer, who owns the bar Big Daddy’s on nearby Laclede’s Landing says he feels the drawbacks that construction will have on his business will be outweighed by the enormous number of new visitors the redevelopment will ultimately bring to the area. “If you’re used to coming downtown, it should have no effect,” he added.

Likewise, said Steve Owings who owns the bar Sundecker’s also on Laclede’s Landing.

“We do what we always do,” he said, noting that the bigger hassle for visitors has been cobblestone restoration taking place on 2nd Street at Laclede's Landing. “But,” he added, “people will get used to it.”

In the Meantime

CityArchRiver 2015 Communications Director Ryan McClure says last week he, Lammering and the owner of St. Louis Carriage Company sat down to address the concerns of the drivers and agreed they will work together to minimize the impact on business.

“The fact that the riverfront was staying open, at least half of it, so that businesses can be accessed down there, was a consideration for the carriage drivers, thinking they could still operate,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to address everyone’s concerns, but we’re going to do the best we can.”

McClure says while construction over the next few years may be an inconvenience in many ways, the 12-component project is designed to provide unique opportunities as well.

“Construction has been phased in a way that keeps it open for a reason because it’s really important,” he said. “We want people from out of town that are coming here to still be able to have the Arch experience – and locals as well.”

During the work, viewing platforms are planned for visitors to survey progress and web cams will live-stream the work sites online. McClure says, in addition, the National Parks Service is connecting with area educators to incorporate the project into their science, technology, engineering and math curriculums.

While the entire CityArchRiver 2015 project is running about six months behind schedule, the riverfront component of the plan is expected to be finished by the Arch’s 50th anniversary in the fall of 2015.

In the meantime, carriage drivers can still be counted on for rides on the open half of Leonor K. Sullivan, six blocks north at Laclede’s Landing and on 4th St. near the Old Courthouse. 

Follow Joseph Leahy on Twitter: @JOEMIKELEAHY