St. Louisans will get their first peek at Kiener Plaza’s lush new gardens, splash pad and colorful playground when the downtown park reopens at noon Friday.
The bronze statue of The Runner is back and selfie-ready, with a new fountain and LED lighting that can change colors to mark holidays and special events, like Cardinals-playoff red and Stanley Cup-blue.
The renovation cost $23.7 million and took more than a year to complete. Public celebrations will be held Friday and Saturday. Details are below.
But, first, do you know who Kiener is?
And what’s the significance of that iconic runner in Downtown St. Louis?
Meet The Runner
The 1.9-acre park was dedicated in 1962, part of the massive urban redevelopment of the city’s downtown area that accompanied the construction of the Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium II. The plaza was erected on the former site of the Old Laclede Hotel and Senate Theater.
The plaza is named for Harry J. Kiener, a lifelong amateur sportsman who was a member of the U.S. track team that competed in the 1904 Olympics held in St. Louis during the World’s Fair.
Kiener was also a steel executive. Upon his death at age 80 in 1960, he bequeathed funds for a fountain with an athletic figure — which is how The Runner came to be.
According to a history compiled by the Regional Arts Commission, Kiener’s trust fund representatives first commissioned acclaimed sculptor Alexander Calder for the sculpture. But his proposed design had no figurative element. Because Kiener’s will included a five-year time limit, the trust company hastily selected sculptor William Zorach to produce a figurative athlete. His design incorporated a runner with a trailing left leg supported by a bronze wave. Zorach never visited the park after The Runner was installed.
The spiffed-up Kiener Plaza features garden spaces planted with native Missouri plants, including 140 trees. There’s plentiful seating, and the lawn space across from the Old Courthouse can accommodate about 2,000 people for events.
The space is more open and pedestrian-friendly, said Emma Klues of Great Rivers Greenways, which partnered with the city of St. Louis and the CityArchRiver Foundation on the project.
“The Courthouse lawn is a large open area that’s gently sloping so we could host movie nights or concerts or farmers markets,’’ Klues said. “It’s still a gathering and rallying place for the local community but also pop-up events here and there throughout the year.’’
She expects families to appreciate the new playground equipment and large interactive water feature called a splash pad.
“I really think it’s a much more livable space for everyday life for folks who work downtown or live downtown or are visiting,’’ Klues said. “It’s a really green lush space. As the trees grow, there will be shade for people to sit on a bench, eat their lunch. It’s a great place to gather. There’s a lot of great spaces for people to have activities and programs throughout the year.’’
The renovations were funded by tax dollars raised by Proposition P, which was approved by city and county voters in 2013, and private funding from the CityArchRiver Foundation. It is part of the $380 million CityArchRiver project that is connecting the Gateway Arch to Downtown.
Friday: St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and project leaders will cut the ribbon at noon. A drum line from Carr Lane VPA Middle School will perform, followed by live music until 1:30 p.m. Food trucks will be onsite.
Saturday: A community celebration from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. will include kids' activities, face painting and live music. Refreshments will be available on food trucks.
Follow Mary Delach Leonard on Twitter: @MaryDLeonard