Construction crews at the Gateway Arch are installing new museum exhibits in the expanded visitors center of the national monument — the final stage in a massive overhaul of the grounds that began in 2013.
“We’re in the home stretch,’’ said Ryan McClure, communications director for the Gateway Arch Park Foundation, as he led reporters on a tour of the site Friday morning. “Right now, what you’re seeing is exhibits being installed, which is really the last piece that needs to happen in the building.’’
Construction will be completed in time for an opening celebration on July 3, he said. Fair St. Louis will be held on the Arch grounds, beginning on July 4.
McClure expects visitors to be surprised by the new, open view from the visitors center. Windows look out on a fountain and the park-like entryway that was built over Interstate 70 to connect the Arch to downtown St. Louis.
“I think people will be pleasantly surprised when they come in and can turn around and are still able to see the city skyline and the Old Courthouse,’’ McClure said. “As they continue through the visitors center into the museum, I think they’ll be enthralled by the new storytelling here — the technology, the interactivity, the engaging nature of the space.”
The museum will mix historic artifacts with interactive audiovisual displays that will better tell the story represented by the Gateway Arch, he said.
Among the larger displays is a reproduction of a cabin that would have been built by early French settlers. It is authentic, down to its hand-hewn posts that were cut using axes. There is also a re-creation of the Old Rock House, a historic, riverfront building, that was razed for construction of the Arch. The structure includes original stones that were saved during demolition.
“There were several goals,’’ McClure said. “One is to update the way that the museum was configured and connected. But also to update the storytelling and include more perspectives — westward expansion and Manifest Destiny and how there are several perspectives to that story. Whether the West was won, the West was stolen, the North was stolen. So there’s very inclusive storytelling in this new museum and I think the National Park Service has done an amazing job in doing that.’’
The visitors center also has elevators and improved walkways that will make the 52-year-old national monument more accessible for people with disabilities.
The project cost $380 million, including $221 million in private donations from the St. Louis area, McClure said.
The updated facilities and new entryway are expected to attract 1 million more people a year and will turn around a decline in visitors in recent years, he said.
“At the very least, we will get back up to the height of visitation for the Arch — that 3.2 to 3.4 million mark,’’ he said.
Follow Mary Delach Leonard on Twitter: @marydleonard