© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Piasa Park in Alton to get up to $6.5 million in renovations and additions

A computer generated image depicts the new visitor's center, the new parking lot and the existing Piasa Bird.
Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau
A computer-generated image depicts the new visitors center and parking lot.

The park that’s home to the Piasa Bird mural in Alton will soon get a makeover.

Alton’s Riverfront Advisory Commission heard plans Tuesday afternoon to spend between $5 million and $6.5 million to redevelop a popular spot on the west side of town near the Mississippi River.

The project, expected to be complete by summer 2025, would construct a 4,500-square-foot visitors center for the city, new parking and landscaping, according to plans from the Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau.

“We want to build a sustainable product that will keep visitors coming year after year,” said Cory Jobe, the tourism bureau’s president and CEO.

The plan includes water retention ponds, outdoor gathering areas and an observation deck for the Piasa Bird mural.

“Creating this state-of-the-art discovery center and new landscape visitor amenities that people want — ADA-accessible restrooms that are open to the public — those are much-needed things as we grow as a regional destination,” Jobe said.

The bureau will fund the project from a $10 million state grant to redevelop the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, which runs from Pere Marquette State Park, where the Illinois River turns east, to the neighboring village of Hartford.

Seated at a meeting in city chambers, Cory Jobe looks down a sheets of paper.
Will Bauer
St. Louis Public Radio
Cory Jobe, president and CEO of the Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau, reviews the plans for Piasa Park at a meeting in Alton City Council chambers Tuesday.

With the same grant, another project in Hartford is planned to begin this summer to revamp the Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower.

In a nearly packed City Council chambers, Alton residents spoke at the meeting, raising questions about the plans. Many noted they commented not to be pessimistic about the project but to make the new park better.

“I think the project makes a lot of sense,” said Marti Sittner, who lives above the park on the bluff. “I think all the points that were made about the current one were true. I think it has great potential, as long as some issues are solved.”

Sittner wonders what, if anything, will be done about lighting, noise and visitors who climb the bluff into their backyards. Other residents questioned if the visitors center would be out of the flood plain, how to expand the parking lot and if liquor can be served.

The parking lot will not be in the flood plain, said Geoff Roehll, an architect on the project. The parking lot could expand for another 15 spaces, if needed, and the tourism bureau will not get a liquor license for the new center.

Jobe, of the tourism bureau, project designers and architects all said they welcomed the feedback.

“Public input is critical,” Jobe said. “If you don't have the public on your side, you can't get anything done.”

The next step will be refining the design plans based on Tuesday’s feedback. Jobe and others hope to have bids for construction out next summer. At some point, the City Council would need to approve the tourism bureau to lease the land at the park.

The new plans will maintain the famed Piasa bird that was painted in the late 1990s. Stemming from Native American mythology, the bird mural on the face of limestone bluff at the park is a re-creation of a drawing first found by French explorers in the 1670s.

Asked by a resident about the bird's future, Jobe told the crowd the tourism bureau will not repaint the bird for this project. It could, however, be considered at a later date.

A computer generated image of what the new visitor's center will look like.
Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau
Expected to be complete by summer 2025, the Piasa Park project would include the construction of a 4,500-square-foot visitors center for the city, new parking and landscaping.

Will Bauer is the Metro East reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.