When St. Louis citizens witnessed the opening ceremonies for the city’s famous Arch in 1967, it was billed as a monument to westward expansion. Next summer, when a redesign of the parklands surrounding the famous monument have their grand opening, the focus will be squarely on the city and how its evolved.
Set to open next July during the annual Fair St. Louis, the $380 million renovation of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and surrounding parks and riverfront seeks to improve the “Arch experience,” making the famed riverfront and Eero Saarinen-designed steel arch more accessible to St. Louisans and visitors alike. Overseen by a non-profit called the Gateway Arch Park Foundation, the project, formerly called CityArchRiver, aims to leverage the waterfront and better connect it with downtown.
The work of landscape architect firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, which previously designed Brooklyn Bridge Park and Maggie Daley Park in Chicago, this renovation represents a unique public-private partnership that involves collaboration between developers, the city, and multiple parks departments, including St. Louis, Missouri, and the National Park Service. Private funding for the endeavor totaled $221 million, the largest-ever private donation to a national park, fitting considering how important the Arch and grounds have become to the city’s image.
During discussions with some of the leaders of the project, including Eric Moraczewski, Executive Director of the Gateway Arch Park Foundation, and Andy Taylor, Executive Chairman of Enterprise Holdings, Inc., backers expressed hope that the development can restore this area as a both a centerpiece for the city and tourist magnet. Attendance, while still in the millions annually, has slipped from the 3.3 million visitors recorded a decade ago. They hope this project, and the extended programming and events coming to the revitalized park, can help reverse that trend.
Designers sought to build upon, instead of overwrite, the famed landscape by architect Dan Kiley. The riverfront was raised 30 inches to decrease flood risk and 11 acres were added to the park, including 5.4 miles of new pathways. The Museum of Westward Expansion and Gateway Arch visitors center, located on park grounds, also received a facelift and 46,000-square-foot addition. The entire site has been designed improve accessibility as well.
The most transformative addition may be a land bridge that spans the highway that used to separate the park from downtown. It connects the waterfront to the city, and helps unify the entire renovation, which spans from downtown’s Kiener Plaza (which reopened last May) and the restored old Courthouse, over the roadway and to the river’s edge. Previously, visitors would have to walk down stairs to cross the highway that separated the city from the park, a difficult trek for those with disabilities.
This renovation comes at a time when St. Louis developers and backers want to shine a light on what’s happening in their city. Roughly $7 billion in new development is in different stages of completion in the city, according to Moraczewski, with new hotels and condos in the works. Along with the new Loop Trolley, as well as the Cortex Innovation Community, a startup hub, new construction is seen as a sign of the Arch City’s resurgence.