Framing a Modern Masterpiece

Last Tuesday, when Anne and I visited the Missouri History Museum to see their new exhibit of American Indian art, A Splendid Heritage, there was another new exhibit there too. Setup under the replica of the Spirit of Saint Louis was the traveling exhibit for the project: Framing a Modern Masterpiece – The City + The Arch + The River – 2015. This is the formal name for what is colloquially known as the plan to redesign the Arch’s grounds. The Arch or the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial as it is also more formally known has been around for fifty years. Its original landscaping plan was never fully implemented and frankly it is time for a few changes.

Framing a Modern Masterpiece is a five-year, $578M plan to improve and expand the Arch’s grounds. Earlier this year, the organization of, City + Arch + River chose a designer and a design and is now engaged in socializing their plan and garnering civic support for it. It already has federal, state (Missouri and Illinois) and municipal government support. Salient aspects of the improvement plan include more closely integrating the Arch and its grounds with the city of Saint Louis; increasing the footprint of the Arch by increasing the space within Saint Louis; and expanding and better connecting the Arch grounds on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. Here are a few of the particulars:

  • Adding 16 acres of new park space on the Missouri side of the river; adding 50 acres of Illinois land as National Park and the potential for further land acquisitions; and 25 acres of landscape improvements on the Arch grounds.
  • Covering of the I-70 expressway, which is now a moat between the Arch grounds and Saint Louis; adding 3.5 miles of new pedestrian pathways creating universal access across the project area; and building a mile long gondola ride from the south end of the Arch grounds to Illinois.
  • The construction of a new 100,000 square-feet pavilion with shade canopy and animated fountain elements centered on the Illinois side Gateway Geyser; Replacing a 4 acre parking garage with community oriented landscape; and the addition of a carousel.

It is a broad, bold and free-ranging plan. It has many elements, more than I have mentioned here, but it is not funded yet. Funding will become the determining element of the future success of this plan. In these tight economic times, where government is retrenching, setting off on such a plan as this may seem almost foolhardy to some. Those that think so, don’t know Saint Louis.

Ten miles to the west of the Arch is the prototype for the Arch’s redevelopment plan. I’m speaking of Forest Park. In 1993, the beginning of $100+M was raised to redevelop Forest Park, the largest redevelopment fund for a municipal park. Both private and public money was raised in a near 50/50 split. Forest Park may be the crown jewel of Saint Louis, but the Arch is a monument of national significance. It casts a much wider net. This plan is the bi-state area’s next great challenge. I look forward to the day when we have risen to meet it.

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