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Public invited to update on Arch grounds redevelopment plan

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 12, 2012 - Although no one is predicting publicly when the first shovel of dirt will fly, plans to revive the Gateway Arch grounds and connect them with improved surroundings are moving forward. 

Leaders of the still-evolving plan will give an update -- including a construction schedule -- at a public meeting from 6-7:15 p.m., Wed., Jan. 25 in the Ferrara Theatre of the America's Center downtown. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

At the top of the agenda:

  • new details about the "lid" to be built over part of sunken Interstate 70 that separates the Arch grounds and downtown;
  • more details about a new glass entrance facing Memorial Drive for an expanded museum beneath the Arch;
  • information about new connections between I-70 and its surroundings from the Poplar Street Bridge north to the new Mississippi River Bridge scheduled to open in 2014.

Among those giving presentations will be Michael Van Valkenburgh, lead designer for the plan, which is estimated to cost $578 million. Since winning the design competition in September 2010, the firm, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Brooklyn, and team members have been working with city, state and federal officials, civic leaders and others from both sides of the river. The goal: to get the plan built by Oct. 28, 2015, the Arch's 50th anniversary.

Whether that ambitious goal still can be met, given the uncertain economy, also will be discussed at the meeting. In December, when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was here with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to present the $20 million TIGER grant, there was some speculation that the plan would have to be scaled back, a suggestion that Salazar rejected.

"The design plan, construction plan and a timeline for the project is on the agenda," said Ryan McClure, communications director for the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation. The foundation, which sponsored the design competition, is raising money for the project.

So far, about $57 million has come in, including:

  • $20 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant, or TIGER grant, announced in December;
  • $25 million from the Missouri Department of Transportation; 
  • $10 million in private money;
  • $2 million federal grant for design work for the lid over 70.

Walter Metcalfe Jr., lead director of the foundation, will discuss funding sources at the meeting.
Also on the agenda are: Deborah Patterson, president of the Monsanto Fund and a member of the design competition board; Susan Trautman, executive director of the Great Rivers Greenway group; and Tom Bradley, superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, more informally called the Arch grounds.

Bradley said Wednesday that while plans are "evolving every day," they also are progressing.

Next month, he said, representatives from Haley Sharpe Designs, based in Leicester, United Kingdom, will come to St. Louis to work on new and revised exhibits for the expanded Museum of Westward Expansion beneath the Arch and on improving exhibits at the nearby Old Courthouse.

"It will be an intense process," Bradley said. "They will spend quite a bit of time looking at the potential space, themes, our audience and what we want to accomplish" with the new and revised exhibits.

Bradley said that renovation is likely as well for the nearby Old Cathedral owned by the St. Louis Archdiocese. Van Valkenburgh's big plan for the area includes a public plaza and restaurant facility next to the cathedral.

The archdiocese "has its own team" at work on a renovation plan for the cathedral, Bradley said, and team members have been talking with Haley Sharpe about improving an existing museum in the basement there and designing exhibits that complement the Arch's museum.

Meanwhile, Bradley said, the VanValkenburgh group is continuing work on sustainable ways to redo the ponds and landscaping in a way that would enhance and not harm Dan Kiley's original design.

Questions remain about demolishing the parking garage on the north side of the Arch grounds and reusing the site perhaps for a park to connect the grounds with Laclede's Landing to the north. Bradley said that will happen only if planners find enough replacement parking near the Arch. They're looking closely at underused garages and other nearby parking areas.

"Michael Van Valkenburgh feels there is really an opportunity to do something special" on the site of the demolished garage, Bradley said, "and we are all working hard to see that we can do that."

Meanwhile, he said, the Great Rivers Greenway group has become "a leader on the riverfront piece of this, figuring out what to do with Leonor K. Sullivan and perhaps raising it by two and a half feet" so the street can remain open longer when floods come. "Two and a half feet will buy so much more time," he said.

Van Valkenburgh and his associates gave their first public plan update in January 2011. Since then, a dramatic new design for Kiener Plaza has emerged. But much of the work on the plan's other aspects, including improvements for the east bank of the river and a gondola-like tramway to connect both banks, has been nitty gritty, behind-the scenes stuff you don't hear much about.

"We're moving forward every single day with the design work, the permitting work and all those things that need to happen to make this project a reality," McClure said.

Charlene Prost, a freelance writer in St. Louis, covers development.