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Arch project on track to be completed by 50th birthday, backers say

This rendering of the "Riverfront Era" story zone in the new Arch museum shows how the Old Rock House facade (left center) will be incorporated.
Courtesy CityArchRiver Foundation
This rendering of the "Riverfront Era" story zone in the new Arch museum shows how the Old Rock House facade (left center) will be incorporated.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon - The leaders of an effort to refurbish the grounds around the Gateway Arch say that the project is on track to be finished in time for the monument’s 50th birthday.

At CityArchRiver 2015’s report to the community, representatives from the public-private partnership joined representatives from the National Parks Services, the Missouri Department of Transportation, Great Rivers Greenway and Haley Sharpe Design to update the $380 million project. Several hundred people watched the presentation at the Ferrara theater in downtown St. Louis.

The roughly 1.5 hour presentation showcased the major changes to grounds around the Arch, the Old Courthouse and Kiener Plaza. Plans are also in the works to restructure the Museum of Westward expansion underneath the Arch, reconfigure Leonor K. Sullivan Blvd. and place a fully landscaped park over Interstate 70.

About $69 million is already available through existing federal, state and local funds, much of which are going for transportation-related aspects of the project. And proceeds from Prop P will fund $90 million worth of work that includes safety and accessibility improvements for walkways, bus drop offs and lighting. That leaves about $221 million worth of private funds, money that will go toward things such as the refurbished museum under the Arch, exhibits and improvements in the Old Courthouse and landscaping.

Walter Metcalfe – a Bryan Cave attorney and the chairman of the CityArchRiver 2015 foundation – was confident that CityArchRiver would raise the private money needed. He said his group will cast a wide net to raise $250 million, with $221 million to pay for capital costs and the remaining $29 million to endow a conservancy.

“We expect to get this nationally and locally,” Metcalfe said. “The business community is already stepping up in the quiet phase with a tremendous set of contributions. We’ve already spent $15 million of the private sector’s money in private fundraising to get to this point for design, engineering and administration. And we expect to get the rest from local and national business and foundations.”

Metcalfe predicted a big economic benefit when the project was completed.

“And when fully implemented by Oct. 28, 2015, we can keep the visitor to St. Louis a half day longer – which results in the direct and indirect creation of 4,400 jobs,” he added. “This is not ‘build it they will come.’ This is ‘build it they will stay.’”

CityArchRiver executive director Maggie Hales said earlier this month her group expects to have $100 million of private money in the bank by May 1. A campaign to raise the additional money, she said, will proceed this summer and fall.

Metcalfe also predicted the passage of Proposition P would make their jobs easier. He said the “emotional impact” of Proposition P’s success “is big to the donor community.”

“This isn’t just a few people … architects and lawyers setting up and designing something,” he said. “This is the public investing in it. So it’s had a huge impact on a lot of people who were kind of sitting on the fence.”

Read the Beacon’s previous story The group spearheading the ambitious project sprucing up the grounds around the Gateway Arch is set to provide a status report of its progress.

CityArchRiver 2015 hosts its annual Report to the Community at 6 p.m. tonight at the Ferrara Theatre at the convention center downtown. CityArchRiver is a public-private partnership that aims to refurbish the grounds around the Arch in time for the monument’s 50th birthday in 2015.

Tonight's presentation will detail how public and private funds will be used for the roughly $380 million project in 2013 and beyond, specifically showcasing plans for refurbishing the monument’s museum, park grounds, riverfront development and roadways.

The speakers are expected to include CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation chairman Walter Metcalfe, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial superintendent Tom Bradley, CityArchRiver 2015 executive director Maggie Hales, Missouri Department of Transportation district engineer Ed Hassinger, Great Rivers Greenway executive director Susan Trautman and David Donoghue of Haley Sharpe Design.

The presentation takes place exactly two weeks after voters in St. Louis County and the city approved Proposition P, a 3/16ths of one-cent sales tax increase. While most of the tax money will go toward local parks and trails, at least 30 percent will pay for specific elements of the Arch project.

“It was a boost. It was a positive message from the voters that came out that they’re very interested,” said Hales in an interview. “Not just in downtown, but in parks around the region and completing the River Ring that Great Rivers Greenway started in 2000. So I think if it’s true that there’s a buzz and it’s worth something, it’s happening right now and this is a good time.”

Hales said earlier this month that proceeds from Prop P will fund primarily safety and accessibility improvements for walkways, bus drop offs and lighting. Those improvements, she said, will appear in and around the Old Courthouse, Kiener Plaza, the park grounds and the Gateway area. Great Rivers Greenway – which is administering the funds for the Arch project –  will issue about $90 million worth of bonds.

Other parts of the project -- including an overhaul of the museum under the Arch -- will be funded by private funds.

While projects using Prop P money won't begin construction until early next year, the Missouri Department of Transportation is preparing to work on a number of road-related projects this year.

“What we’re going to talk about is the transportation part of the equation, which is that a lot of things have to happen to allow the ‘wow’ stuff – the new landscaping and the new entrance to the parks,” Hassinger said. “I’m going to talk about all of the transportation changes, which all really good. They’ll help out with safety, congestion, but also will allow us to build the park over the highway.”

Hassigner said transportation-related work includes “new pavement, new pedestrian crossings and new signals,” as well as rearranging interstate ramps and changing to bridge connections. The main piece is a park over Interstate 70, which is commonly referred to as the "lid."

“It’s going to pretty extensive just on the transportation side,” Hassinger said. “We’re going to start projects this summer. So you’re going to see fairly heavy construction going on definitely this fall, heavy into 2014 and then we’ll finish up by the beginning of 2015.”

Museum exhibits to provide 'sizzle'

Hales said the “sizzle of the evening” will revolve around exhibits within the Museum of Westward Expansion beneath the Arch and at the Old Courthouse.

“The museum that’s there is terrific. It’s frozen in time a little bit back to when it was installed,” said Hales, referring to the museum underneath the Arch. “David’s going to talk about a fresher, more 21st century approach to storytelling that is more interactive and includes a lot of media. But it’s still the Museum of Westward Expansion.”

The Beacon previewed the new exhibits in February. Once work is completed, visitors will be able to find “story zones” with all new exhibits and displays all designed around new themes. That includes exhibits delving into how the city contributed to the country’s westward expansion, the importance of the Mississippi River and the riverfront, and a look at how the Arch was constructed.

“What’s different about this museum is how it’s going to relate a bit more to how St. Louis played a role in westward expansion – and in particular St. Louisans,” Hales said.

According to a breakdown from CityArchRiver 2015 sent to the Beacon earlier this month, about $161 million of private money will be used to expand and place new exhibits inside the museum. About $3 million from Proposition P will go toward improving the museum’s ramp exits and improvements to safety and security exits.

In an interview, Donoghue said he will spend anywhere from 20 to 25 minutes talking through where the exhibits are in terms of schematic design. He said he'll show simple layouts to show how the flow through the museum is changing.

"We have enough visual material to show how the visitor experience is going to developed out by 2015," Donoghue said. "So we're really hoping to give visitors a first taste of what's coming. There's plenty of work to do in terms of developing out the stories, but it gives you a really good idea of the sort of things to expect."

Donoghue said he hoped his presentation would give people a "sneak preview of what's coming up."

"It's really a chance to kind of look beyond the words that have been written and see some of the images," he said. "So really I'm hoping that people will be excited to see what's coming. There will be an opportunity for them to ask us questions. So we're hoping they'll come prepared to come with some questions to ask about how we're developing the exhibition."

"We were hoping to take some feedback from all our meetings," he added. "Hopefully we can take some comments on board. If anybody has any opinions that they want to share with us, we're happy to hear them."

When work is completed, Donoghue said the museum will allow visitors to go through an "immersive" experience.

"We're creating spaces that sort of wrap around the visitor and have huge imagery," he said, adding that the exhibits will use more sound and changing imagery. "There's lots of interactivity. So there are exhibits that will allow visitors to explore the stories in much more detail than they have at the moment. There's not much as a reliance on the written word."

Advisory commitee members named

Meanwhile, 42 people were appointed last week to a citizens' advisory committee to monitor the CityArchRiver project. Great Rivers Greenway approved the slate for the committee at its meeting earlier this month.

Hales told the Beacon early this month that the Great Rivers Greenway committee will "help decide what kind of programming we need to have on the Arch grounds, and help us figure out how to maintain a long-term operation of maintenance for the project to keep it fresh and alive in future years.”

Click here to see the roster of people who will serve on the committee.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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