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St Louis Wants to Develop Land under Gateway Arch

The park next under the Gateway Arch; 'stepha1202' photo via Flickr

The park beneath the Gateway Arch. Photo by Stephanie Axe via flickr.

St. Louis is jealous of Chicago. Chicago has created something called the Millennium Park which includes an amazing outdoor concert venue, wonderful gardens, and a shiny metallic sculpture called "Cloud Gate" (perhaps better known as the 'Chicago Bean'). Chicago's park has transformed a worn down part of town, and people and business have returned.

St. Louis has its own shiny mirrored sculpture called the "Gateway Arch" that draws 2.5 million people annually, but former Senator John Danforth, after having spent 2 years and $2 million, has come up with a development plan that would draw more people and business to the area, and revitalize the waterfront like Chicago has done. There is a problem though. The plan would require the city of St. Louis to develop land that is currently owned by the United States, and managed by the National Park Service.

The plan would create a strong, pedestrian friendly connection between the downtown core and the waterfront near the Arch. Ideas in the plan have included the addition of museums, restaurants, and possibly even an aquarium. As it is now, a common complaint of the area is that, besides the Arch, there isn't any reason to stay near the water. "We are wasting our two most valuable assets, the Gateway Arch and our position on America's greatest river," Mr. Danforth said. "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. As a community, we can do better."

Some say that because the park is like an island (surrounded on one side by the Mississippi River, and on two other sides by Interstate freeways), the isolation of the area will be difficult to overcome. The city plan would address this problem by creating a lid over part of one freeway, creating an above ground pedestrian mall.

There are a lot of people skeptical of the entire plan, not the least of whom is the National Park Service. The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial deputy superintendent Frank Mares told the St Louis paper, "we've been involved with a number of community planners over the past two years on the riverfront master plan, so it's surprising that one of the partners in the planning efforts has jumped out in front of everyone and come to this conclusion without consulting us." Plus, removing land from a park unit is a very rare thing. NPS spokesperson David Barna told the paper, "it is very difficult to take property out of the national park system. It's hard for me to even think of ... examples. But we do what Congress wishes us to do."

The National Parks Conservation Association has said, "we need to remember that the Arch and the park surrounding it belong to the people of the United States, not just the residents of St. Louis."


What danforth and now the new politco at the head of the interior dept. [responding to clout-heavy pressure form the danforths and their cronies] propose to do is nothing less than vandalize one of the great works of urban landscape art in the world and deface a serene masterpiece by Dan Kiley and Eero Saarinen. Next, the neanderthals behind this project will want to build a new arch, with skyboxes and caviar service. this project is an enormous waste of federal tax dollars for a completely unnecessary and wrongheaded [and pigheaded] project, in a time of economic depression with far more pressing needs, particularly in the education-challenged public school system of slouis. But the rich and the political hacks always get their way, at the expense of the citizenry. And most likely the danforths will again find an underhanded way to get their name plastered on a monument. And your claim that residents of this town are "jealous" of chicago and its stupid trendy "bean" [which didn't restore a rundown part of town at all - the oh-so-trendy-and-quickly-tiresome millenium park is adjacent to the always popular Grant Park and was built over railroad tracks, not a "run-down" part of town - and there was ALWAYS a fine concert venue in Grant Park!] is complete hogwash. This city LOVES the Arch and its park. The "jealousy" runs the other way.

Yep -- too much "do" and what have ya got?


Jon, okay, but St. Louis should be one of those places? (Isn't one Kansas City enough? JUST KIDDING!)

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

We need more places where there's "little to do"...

Well said. I was confused about the details of the park's history and rushed to judgment. In the future, I will write about that which I have more in depth knowledge.

Daniel, sounds like you've got a pretty close park service connection. Thanks very much for the additional input.

Daniel, thanks for your enlightening remarks. I think you have shed some valuable light on the subject.

By all means, state your opinions about the whole matter, but please be careful that your information is factual.

Sorry, but the land in question has nothing to do with some land-grab in 1984. What the local foundation proposes is taking control of part of the original park grounds which include the Gateway Arch and its surrounding green space designed by Eero Saarinen and renknown landscape architect Dan Kiley. The Mel Price issue involved 100 other acres across the Mississippi River in East St. Louis, which again, is not part of what's being proposed for development. Now, that would be the prime spot for redevelopment but it's already junked up with a boat-in-a-moat casino and a large part of it is occupied by private enterprise - something NPS doesn't control.

A student of the administrative history of the site will also see that the locals petitioned vociferously for the federal government and National Park Service to develop Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in the heart of downtown St. Louis way back in the 1930's -- hardly an image of the federal government ignoring local needs and overstepping its bounds. If anything, it's the opposite. It was one of the first historic sites to come into the system, as I'm sure you know. As a unit of the National Park System since 1935 - this is not exactly a Johnny-come-lately park.

An NPS turnstile for people trying to get permanent positions? Interesting. Well if you're talking about law enforcement jobs you're probably right. They go off for training and sometimes we never see them agan. Otherwise, every other division has a strong, solid and consistent core staff. Most people find long-term, fulfilling work at the park and aren't their just to punch their ticket toward permanent status. If that ever was true, it just doesn't stand true today. The park system's diversity is what makes it strong, in my opinion. Don't think it unimaginable that someone would actually enjoy working in an urban park.

Onto the chiding of the feds for building underground... The underground visitor center and museum has always existing has always been high and dry ABOVE the flood plain. The place was dry even in the devastating flood of 1993 when rivers levels were at their highest in modern history. Ditto for the parking garage. Let's not pretend that these things were built by some irresponsible government agency.

The proposal at hand is actually acknowledging that the feds did it right when they built the Arch grounds at its current elevation. Since everything else down on the riverfront floods (rivers do that) there is little opportunity for permanent development. It took the foundation 2 years and $2 million dollars to reach that very obvious conclusion. That doesn't mean that the only solution is to take the single most successful project downtown - which from its inception was a national park site - and pave it over in favor of the next best thing. The folks behind the proposal have turned the discussion from "the riverfront is a disgrace because there's nothing to do" to "who ever said we needed all that green space around the Arch anyway." Ripping out the heart of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial does nothing to address the original goal of improving the actual riverfront. They are painting JNEM as some collosal failure when in reality it's been so successful that the city fathers (and in this case it is the fathers) are no longer interested in their original goal of developing the area around it but instead want to pepper the grounds with development that thas nothing to do with the purpose of the park. One local talk show host can think of nothing better than having a beer garden on the grounds.

Land grab? You bet.

Now to the question "Why should you or anyone living thousand of miles away presume to dictate what the citizens of St. Louis should or shouldn't do in their own city?" Think about it...most gateway communities would relish the opportunity to get their hands on some park land. In doing so they fail to see this as killing the goose that lays the golden egg. If it can happen with the national park site in St. Louis, what's to prevent it from happening anywhere else? If I don't care what happens in St. Louis and the precedent this sets for the national park SYSTEM, then I have no grounds for opposing such a proposal when it comes to my own back yard.

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