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McCaskill, Salazar confident that Arch grounds overhaul will be done

By Matt Sepic, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar says overhauling the Arch grounds is a top priority for the National Park Service.

Salazar traveled to St. Louis Friday to view five competing proposals that try to implement Eero Saarinen's original vision for the Arch grounds. Saarinen, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday on Friday but died four years before the Arch was completed, envisioned an expansive landscape around the monument.

Salazar would not say which design idea he prefers. But he said finishing the project is a must, despite the tough economy.

"We're optimistic about the future. And I think this kind of project, which has been envisioned here in St. Louis, very much grasps that optimism of how we're going to get it done," Salazar said.

All five designs place some sort of cap or covering over Interstate 70, which cuts the Arch from the rest of downtown. Four of the designs recommend removing the interstate entirely, though that's likely to be too complicated for the project's time frame. All of them make renovations to the underground Museum of Westward Expansion. And all call for some sort of development on the east side of the Mississippi River.

None of the proposals have a price tag or sources of funding. But Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, who joined Salazar, called the fundraising something St. Louis "can and must do." But she said the redesign won't be just another government construction project.

"We won't just be asking for federal money," McCaskill said. "We'll be looking at transportation dollars. We'll be looking at park dollars. We'll be looking at state dollars. We'll looking at local dollars. We'll be looking at charitable giving. We'll be looking at kids having bake sales."

A jury will pick the winning design late next month. Planners want to have the Arch grounds overhaul finished by 2015 - the monument's 50th anniversary.