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Federal, local officials tout $20 million grant for Arch redevelopment

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 21, 2011 - Federal and local political figures were jubilant about a $20 million federal grant for improving access to the Gateway Arch in time for the monument's 50th birthday.

But even boisterous boosters of the project -- such as U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. -- say the grant is part of a larger funding equation. How much more money would be needed to complete the project, which is widely estimated to cost $578 million?

McCaskill's reply: "A lot."

"There are a number of different pieces for this," said McCaskill, adding that supporters will continue to search for state, local and private sector funding. "What this is shows a major commitment of the federal end of this partnership."

McCaskill added that she believes the Arch project also will be in a position to compete strongly for future federal transportation funds.

"With what we have accomplished here, we're going to be in a very good position to compete for federal transportation dollars to complete this project and do some of the other work that we're going to do to make this vision happen," McCaskill said.

The exact nature of that vision may be shifting. Tom Bradley, the superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, said that a "scaled-down" version of the plan would be detailed in late January.

When asked about Bradley's comment, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, "There's absolutely no reason why it can't get done and ... there's no absolutely no reason why we wouldn't have full confidence that it gets done. There's a reason the partnership is called CityArchRiver 2015 -- because we are committed to getting this done. And today's a very significant milestone in that direction."

"I'm not talking about anything being scaled back," he added. "We'll find a way to get the rest of it. It will come from the partnership that really made this the kind of collaboration that Secretary (Ray) LaHood so eloquently spoke about."

'Holiday gift' for St. Louis

LaHood and Salazar joined Missouri elected officials and business leaders inside the Old Courthouse downtown to tout a $20 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery -- or TIGER III -- grant in support of CityArchRiver 2015 initiative. Among those present were U.S. Reps. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and Mayor Francis Slay.

The money will be used in part to place a "lid" over the sunken Interstate 70 lanes that now separate the Arch grounds from downtown. The pedestrian land bridge over I-70 will connect the Old Courthouse, Luther Ely Smith Square and the Arch grounds.

Salazar and LaHood both said the CityArchRiver 2015 initiative -- a public-private partnership -- could catch on throughout the country.

"It is my humble opinion -- but a very confident opinion -- that what we are seeing happen here in St. Louis is a creation that will be a model of a great urban park for America," Salazar said. "This is a high priority for the people of Missouri. This is a high priority for the president. It's a high priority for us at the Department of the Interior."

LaHood, a former Republican congressman from central Illinois, noted that the Arch project was one of only four projects throughout the country that received a $20 million TIGER grant. And he added that the grant could prompt local economic activity.

"This year we had $500 million," LaHood said. "We had $14 billion in requests for that money. There's a pent-up demand in America for innovative, creative projects to put our friends and neighbors to work. I don't want this to be lost on anyone: This project will create jobs. It will put friends and neighbors from this region to work."

"I don't know if there's a better holiday or Christmas gift for St. Louis," he added. "This is pretty dang good."

The $20 million grant will be added in with other funds aimed at improving the Interstate 70 corridor, said Walter Metcalfe of the CityArchRiver group. That, he said, includes $25 million from the Missouri Department of Transportation, $10 million of private sector funding and a $2.2 million design grant.

Kevin Keith, the director of MoDOT, said construction on the I-70 part of the project -- which is expected to cost $70 million -- could begin next year.

"We're going to start now, we're going to build the whole thing," Keith said. "We just have to figure out either through reduced cost or a little more money from our friends how we make up that $15 million difference. But we'll get that done."

The $20 million grant is actually less than what lawmakers had requested. In a letter signed by McCaskill, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, lawmakers had asked for $30.7 million for infrastructure improvements along the I-70 corridor near the Arch grounds, $10 million for enhancements along Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard and $2.3 million to complete the River Ring Trail system between St. Louis and East St. Louis.

Metcalfe added erasing the separation between downtown and the Arch will go a long way toward bringing about more investment for the project.

"Getting over the highway, getting over I-70 has convinced many in St. Louis that this is real -- and they're stepping up now," Metcalfe said. "People don't want to invest in the Arch until they know they can get there. And by doing the traffic rerouting and bringing in the land bridge, the proof is there that we can get there."

Jason Rosenbaum, a freelance journalist in St. Louis, covers state and local government and politics. 

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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