The group in charge of overhauling Kiener Plaza is giving the public a taste of what's to come.
CityArchRiver had an open house on Monday in downtown St. Louis to give the public a view of Kiener Plaza's redesign plans. It’s part of a broader project to revamp the Gateway Arch grounds over the next few years.
The group is planning to add an extensive playground and an interactive fountain. The project will also include a large event lawn for concerts and movies, as well as a place for people to park their bicycles.
“They’re pretty delightful changes,” said Susan Trautman, executive director of Great Rivers Greenway. “I think we’ve heard from a lot of people that they’re excited about having a much safer, more accessible for families and children to come and enjoy the Downtown area and connect into the Arch grounds.”
For CityArchRiver spokesman Ryan McClure, the overhaul will make Kiener Plaza “a welcoming plaza for all people and gatherings of different sizes.”
“Overall, what we’re trying to do with Kiener is just develop it into its full potential as a civic gathering space,” McClure said.
McClure said the plaza’s redesign would cost between $18 million and $22 million. It will be paid for with a mixture of private funds and proceeds from a 3/16ths of one-cent sales tax that was passed in 2013.
Construction is set to begin sometime next year and take 14 months to complete.
The Kiener Plaza open house comes as other parts of the CityArchRiver project are well underway. McClure said the Missouri Department of Transportation is hard at work creating a landscaped bridge over the highway in front of the Arch. He also said crews are removing trees from the Arch grounds that will eventually be replaced with newer ones.
While the entire project won’t be completed by its initial goal of October 2015, McClure said sprucing up the Arch grounds will bring “a sense of pride and beauty” to St. Louis.
“This project from the very beginning has been about bringing the front door to our region to its full potential,” McClure said. “The Arch is obviously a magnificent structure that undeniably represents St. Louis and all we can be. It’s been about connecting it to the city that surrounds it, giving it the home that it deserves.”
Trautman added: "Whether you’re a person who actually comes to use the park or not, this makes St. Louis a better place to live."
"And that was the promise we made with Proposition P," said Trautman, referring to the sales tax that's helping fund the project. "And we are about delivering on that promise. We said that we were going to create a safer, more accessible city, Arch, river experience. And that’s what this project is about and Great Rivers Greenway is really proud to be part of it. And we made a commitment and we’re going to keep that."
Does new equal good?
Some of St. Louis region’s residents got a first-hand look at the changes to Kiener Plaza at an open house at the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark. They looked at renderings of the revamped plaza, as well as a three-dimensional model of the project.
Besides the addition of the playground and the interactive fountain, the biggest changes would be elevating a sunken amphitheater and possibly moving William Zorach’s “The Runner” sculpture out of its fountain.
“The biggest change is probably bringing of the amphitheater up to grade so that it’s not an eight-foot sunken space,” said Nate Trevethan, who works for the design firm Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates. “The ambition is to create a central gathering space for St. Louis. So, the center of the plaza is paved, it’s flexible. There’s a large lawn that’s kind of respectful of the Old Courthouse. And then it’s flanked by garden spaces that bring needed shade in the summer, spring and fall.”
Still, several people at the open house said they liked current elements of Kiener Plaza and questioned the changes.
Paul Kjorlie of St. Louis said Kiener Plaza was a “tired park” that needed renovations. But he said the amphitheater played a critical role for some protests, including the 2011 Occupy movement.
“We had the Occupy movement there for months, which [the business community] must have not liked,” Kjorlie said. “But that’s one of the messy parts of having a democracy. So, I’m really concerned about the loss of the amphitheater. I think that’s a mistake.”
St. Charles resident Keith Beck didn’t like the idea of changing the arrangement of the plaza.
“I feel that it’s an artistic statement as it is,” said Beck, who is a cousin of the plaza’s namesake -- Harry Kiener. “You’ve got The Runner. You’ve got the Courthouse in the back and you’ve got the Arch framing it all. It’s already a perfect art piece. How can you mess with a piece of art like that? That’s kind of what I’m going with.”
“It’s a line of movement that they’re messing with,” he added. “They’re really messing with a beautiful icon – something that took you right through a nice line.”
Trevethan said the final design of the plaza could change – which is one of the reasons they’re soliciting feedback about the proposed design.
“We’re here to listen. Because everyone’s comments will make this a better place in the end,” Trevethan said. “I mean a lot of people are saying they really want to take that iconic photograph with The Runner and the Courthouse and the Arch – and it’s preserved somehow. So, we need to find the right place for the elements. And we’re working on that.”