This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The National Park Service will consider improvements to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, including recommendations by Walter Metcalfe, Peter Raven and Robert Archibald.
The Danforth Foundation is pleased that the National Park Service is initiating a public planning process that will consider improvements to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. We appreciate the Park Service's responsiveness toward our report of last August and its hard work in moving the issue to this stage.
As we said last August, we believe we are wasting our region's two most valuable physical assets – the Gateway Arch and our position on the Mississippi River. There is little to do on the riverfront, and the Gateway Arch stands in splendid isolation amidst 91 acres devoted strictly to "passive use." The riverfront and Arch grounds are cut off from downtown by six lanes of Memorial Drive and four lanes of Interstate 70. Small wonder that visitorship is declining and that the Arch grounds and riverfront are often nearly empty.
Yet in our view the potential of these assets is virtually unlimited. The St. Louis central riverfront could be a magnet for visitors from the St. Louis area and from around the nation and the globe. It could offer our region a significantly greater economic benefit. It could be a source of excitement and pride to St. Louisans, and bring new luster to our image worldwide.
We therefore strongly endorse the recommendation of our three advisers, Walter Metcalfe, Dr. Peter Raven, and Dr. Robert Archibald, that a major new destination attraction/cultural facility be included in the plans for a revitalized riverfront. Without such a major new destination attraction, we believe, the Arch will remain nothing but a quick "photo op" for too many visitors. With such a major new facility, people will be inclined to stay for hours or even all day at the riverfront, and to stay overnight in a hotel. With such a facility, the restaurants and other attractions that could be added to the area would have a solid prospect of success.
To have the requisite impact, we believe this facility, probably a museum or other cultural institution, should be of an architectural quality consistent with that of Saarinen's magnificent Arch. It should be visually inviting to the public, and its theme should be of national importance and capable of attracting large numbers of visitors. In short, it should be powerful in design, content, scale, and impact.
We agree with the three advisers that a three-block Connector between the Arch grounds and downtown is necessary; and we agree that seasonal activities on the riverfront and year-round activities on the Arch grounds are vital. We also agree that a regional not-for-profit "trust" must be formed to receive private and public funds and to design, develop and maintain the new attraction. And we agree that a firm deadline of Oct. 28, 2015 - the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Arch - is crucial.
When we issued our report last August, we said significant improvement of the Arch grounds and their surroundings would occur only with the strong backing of the people of the St. Louis region. There is strong evidence of that support. A poll last December shows that residents across the St. Louis area want a riverfront that provides a variety of cultural, recreational and leisure activities and entertainment, in a manner that complements the magnificence of the Arch. Sixty-nine percent said they favored cultural institutions, such as museums. In addition, we have received letters of support from a broad cross-section of our region, including leaders of government, business, labor, and the professions. These letters include one signed jointly by the leaders of the area's four most populous counties, other than the City of St. Louis (whose elected leader, Mayor Slay, has supported the concept since its inception).
We hope this support will be expressed clearly and strongly to the NPS during its planning process. We hope that as a result, the planning process will culminate in a proposal for a world-class attraction on the grounds of the Arch, as well as a three-block Connector and seasonal and year-round activities on the riverfront and Arch grounds. These features, we are convinced, are what are needed to create a riverfront that would capture the imagination of St. Louisans and visitors alike, and transform the image of our region.
Should that be the outcome, the Danforth Foundation would be prepared to make a significant financial commitment. We would, in fact, welcome the opportunity.