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Economy & Business

Arch museum expansion begins

Construction is underway on the Gateway Arch museum expansion.  The groundbreaking ceremony for the latest phase of the $380 million CityArchRiver project was held Wednesday at the site of the future entryway to the museum, sandwiched between the Arch and the soon-to-be-completed park over the highway.

Over the next two years, contractors will add 46,000 square feet to the visitor center under the Arch and building that entryway, which will be a broad plaza facing downtown St. Louis.

The Westward Expansion museum exhibits will also get an overhaul to be more inclusive and forward-thinking, according to CityArchRiver Executive Director Maggie Hales.

“For example in the Manifest Destiny story area, there will be equal treatment given to the Native American perception of that, which was that the West was stolen, not that the West was won. And people will be invited to think about that,” Hales said.

Flags mark the outline of the future plaza entryway to the museum on Wednesday, April 29, 2015. The entryway will be built into the side of the hill leading to the Arch.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
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Flags mark the outline of the future plaza entryway to the museum on Wednesday, April 29, 2015. The entryway will be built into the side of the hill leading to the Arch.

Hales said the museum will also have more interactive media elements and “celebrate the future” by connecting the risk-taking spirit of Lewis and Clark with the innovation and entrepreneurial successes of St. Louis when it reopens in the spring of 2017.

“We want people who come in to understand that 'yes, history is there' but we need to think about our dreams for the future because the Arch really represents dreaming and it represents the future, not the past,” Hales said.

During the groundbreaking Wednesday, CityArchRiver board member Flint Fowler highlighted the expanded museum as a commitment to education.

“I’ve spent the majority of my career focused on the growth and development of youth,” said Fowler, who is president of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater St. Louis. “Their aspirations and achievements are indicators of our region’s commitment to the health and well-being of our region’s most precious resource. What a wonderful opportunity we have on this very ground to encourage our youth to explore the past, reflect on the present and dream big for the future.”

CityArchRiver board member and Boys and Girls Club of Greater St. Louis President Flint Fowler speaks during the groundbreaking Wednesday, April 29, 2015. Behind him construction of the park over the highway connecting the courthouse to the Arch grounds i
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
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CityArchRiver board member and Boys and Girls Club of Greater St. Louis President Flint Fowler speaks during the groundbreaking Wednesday, April 29, 2015. Behind him construction of the park over the highway connecting the courthouse to the Arch grounds is underway.

Elementary students from KIPP Victory Academy St. Louis and Rockwood Center for Creative Learning in Ellisville performed the groundbreaking, cued by Hales to dig into a row of raised dirt with red shovels.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said he was the age of those students when the Arch was completed in 1965 and described the CityArchRiver project as “more than a construction project. What we’re doing here is designing a better visitor experience so more people will stay longer and come more often” to the Arch.

In the meantime, however, the construction has impacted the number of visits to the Arch.

“The visitors have been surprisingly strong this year, and yes of course there is an impact,” Hales said. “The museum closed, so now when visitors come really all there is to do is to go to the top of the Arch.”

Two earlier phases of the CityArchRiver project -- the park over the highway and the riverfront renovations -- are expected to be completed by October of this year in time for the Arch’s 50th anniversary.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

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