Park Service 'respectfully disagrees' that City should control Arch grounds
St. Louis, MO – The National Park Service says it "respectfully disagrees" that the only way to develop the St. Louis riverfront is to cede control of the land to the city.
Mayor Francis Slay and other civic leaders are pushing for it after a report Wednesday by the Danforth Foundation suggested such a move. The report says the best hope for improving the riverfront is for the Park Service to give up some of the 91 acres of land beneath the Arch.
"Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is a national park and as a national park unit belongs to all Americans," said the memorial's deputy superintendent, Frank Mares.
Mares added, though, the agency is "always available to discuss and engage the public about how best to manage use of the riverfront" and is "willing to hear about ideas that benefit visitors, the memorial and the city."
"We are wasting our two most valuable assets the Gateway Arch and our position on America's greatest river," said former Senator John Danforth, whose foundation released the report Wednesday. "There is little to do at the riverfront, and the Arch one of the world's greatest and most beautiful monuments stands in splendid isolation."
The Arch is part of the 91-acre Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Beyond the 630-foot-tall monument itself, the underground museum below the Arch and the historic Old Courthouse, the rest of the property is green space along the Mississippi River.
Most of the grounds are separated from the rest of downtown by I-70. A bridge carries both vehicles and pedestrians over the interstate, but the walk is unattractive, noisy, smells of car fumes and can be dangerous. City and civic leaders for years have looked at better ways to link to the grounds.
The foundation report does not specify how much of the Arch grounds would be sought from the National Park Service. Transferring the land would require an act of Congress.
The Danforth report said the goal would be to develop an area for active uses such as those found at Chicago's Millennium Park. The study, begun two years ago, was conducted at the request of Mayor Francis Slay, who called development of the riverfront and a connector linking downtown "a major priority."
Danforth, a three-term Republican senator and former ambassador whose family founded Ralston-Purina, said key to any riverfront redevelopment is the Arch grounds.
Architect Eero Saarinen's Arch opened in 1965 at a cost of $13 million as a tribute to westward expansion. The monument draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and has become the city's most recognizable symbol.
But from the day the two legs of the Arch were joined, civic leaders have sought a better way to merge the monument and its grounds with the rest of downtown. Slay said four different studies have considered the dilemma, but the Danforth Foundation was the first to employ engineering and modeling analyses recommended by the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers.
The foundation said the revitalized riverfront could include restaurants, ice skating, swimming, fountains and other features and activities. But key to the project, the report said, was taking over part of the Arch grounds, most of which sits high enough above the river to avoid the risk of flooding.
The plan seeks a three-block deck over I-70, providing easier and safer access for visitors.
The study does not specify how much of the Arch property would be sought.
The portion of the Arch grounds would be transferred to a yet-to-be defined local entity.
Slay asked three civic leaders Walter Metcalfe, Robert Archibald and Peter Raven for further advice on developing the riverfront development and connector. Metcalfe is the former chairman of the Bryan Cave law firm; Archibald is president and CEO of the Missouri Historical Society; Raven is director of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said in a statement she backs the plan. "It's a tremendous resource that is underutilized and I'm very supportive of what Sen. Danforth and Mayor Slay are trying to do," McCaskill said.
A spokesman for Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Meanwhile, the superintendent of the Arch is taking a new job in Washington.
Peggy O'Dell will become superintendent of the National Mall, which means she'll be in charge of all the monuments and war memorials.
She's been at the Arch for three years.