© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Getting it right: MVVA Arch plan undergoes revisions and refinements

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 17, 2010 - You might think that because the Michael Van Valkenburg Associates team won the design competition for the Gateway Arch grounds, what's on its drawing boards is what will happen.

Well, yes and no.

Discussions about revising MVVA's winning concept are already underway and will continue in the months ahead. The latest word is that we'll see a finished plan in January.

The revisions are in part a response to questions raised by the project's Technical Advisory Group, which includes about 20 federal, state and local agencies, such as Missouri and Illinois highway officials, the Coast Guard and the National Parks Service.

Donald Stastny, the design competition manager, is in the thick of things. So is Arch superintendent Tom Bradley. Both say the discussions are constructive and part of an ongoing process to get things right, and both expect a resolution by the end of the year.

"There is a tremendous amount of work here that we are undertaking, and it is all positive," said Stastny, CEO of StastnyBrun Architects in Portland, Or.

"We are not going (to MVVA) and saying, take this out and change it. Rather, we are saying there is a concern. How do you address or resolve it? In January, it will be a lot like what is there now with a number of refinements, more features, more developed. You won't see a completely new animal," he said.

Stastny said he especially liked MVVA's plan because it, unlike some others, had "a strong foundation to build on that you can enhance as you go along." Others had "a lot of pieces that might excite people, but maybe pieces that can't be done."

Bradley added that MVVA has a "strong team" and a concept with "substantial depth." And, he said, "with a complicated, long-term project like this one, you need someone who can take it on."

Concerns About MVVA's Plan

Still, MVVA's plan isn't perfect. Stastny and Bradley discussed some of the revisions and concerns with the Beacon. Among them are:

The expanded, sloping cobblestone levee that goes to river's edge and eliminates Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard has received rave reviews but also generated questions.

  • Aren't cobblestones difficult to walk on?
  • Will the two remaining excursion boats stay on the riverfront?
  • How would service and maintenance vehicles get to the boats with Sullivan closed?
  • What happens if the river floods?

"The idea is to get the riverfront back to what is was (with cobblestones), but they are hard to walk on. So there will be more consideration of what that surface will be -- maybe cut stone or segments that allow for walking," Stastny said.
"The intent was to keep the boats," added Stastny, although perhaps in a different location on the riverfront. "Part of the reason for reconfiguring and raising the levee (in MVVA's concept) was to maintain potential access to those boats, even in flood time. It will take more study, but the intent is to accommodate them and make them more accessible in high water."

As for Memorial Drive, the MVVA team said that after 2015, "the benefits of removing the highway altogether are clear, and we have purposely created a proposal that is compatible." By 2015, MVVA proposed only a pedestrian overpass between Market and Chestnut streets, part of a sweeping landscaped connection between Kiener Plaza to the Arch grounds.

Stastny and Bradley said to stay tuned on this aspect where discussions are just getting underway. A traffic study also is in the works.

"MVVA did propose more closures (to Memorial) after 2015," Stastny said. "The bottom line is that what we are trying to do is get some major modifications and closure before 2015."

Walter Metcalfe Jr. is a member of the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation that sponsored the design competition. At a recent public meeting, he summed up public feedback on MVVA's proposal for the east bank as "a big yawn." Even the design competition jury, which liked the wetland reserve, said it was "too passive" and needed more than an amphitheater, avian center and other features sketched out.

As is, MVVA's proposal works well with the existing park, geyser and viewing platform already there, says Stastny, and has an ecological component. "And that is what we are building on by trying to get more things and more programming" to attract visitors.

Stastny said that they've talked with Illinois highway officials "about getting Route 3 built in there by 2015."

MVVA's concept for Kiener Plaza is to replace the sunken center with "a flat bosque" with more trees, a remote ticketing facility for Arch tram rides and other visitor services.

Because of Kiener's location as "critical linkage" between Citygarden and the Gateway Mall and the Arch grounds, and the north and south ends of downtown, Stastny says it needs something more. "We are really digging into it, and we expect that what's in the initial concept will change dramatically."

MVVA proposed three above-ground structures on the Arch grounds that "would intrude only minimally": a mostly glass entrance facing Memorial Drive for an expanded museum beneath the Arch; a museum rooftop terrace; and a courtyard.

Stastny said: "The issue is: Are they (intrusions) or not? The jury felt not. We will work it through with the Park Service."

Also under discussion is MVVA's plan to close Washington Avenue from Memorial Drive to the river, demolish the Arch grounds parking garage that faces Washington, and rebuild the area, alongside the Eads Bridge with an amphitheater and other features.

The jury said flatly that closing Washington would be a "mistake." Bradley and Stastny said that no decisions about that have been made yet.

The Next Steps

Before the final plan is ready for the public to see in January, it needs approval from the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation, the group overseeing the project. The foundation includes Mayor Francis Slay, Bradley, Metcalfe and others.

The plan will include a cost estimate, work schedules and a framework for fund-raising.

Metcalfe, who led the charge on raising nearly $2 million in private money for the design competition, said the groundwork for bringing in money from private and government sources is being laid now.

"We're not just living in a dreamworld," Metcalfe said. "I'm confident that if we can get the value impact of this out there for the whole region, people will realize its importance" and the money will follow.

Stastny said that once construction begins, the public will be invited to participate.

"It is not our intent that the city shut down when we do the work," he said. "We want to make the construction interesting and something for folks to follow along.

"We will give details, maybe weekly updates, so if people want to come down and see what's going on, view the construction activity and see how things are being done, they can come down and do that. We want the area to remain active."

Charlene Prost, a freelance writer in St. Louis, has long covered downtown development. 

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.