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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."


Just north of the Gateway Arch is Laclede's Landing. It's a former warehouse area of old distinctive brick buildings with some bars and restaurants but it is underutilized and would be the perfect area for more restaurants, an aquarium, etc. etc. Laclede's Landing is walking distance to the Gateway Arch and its museum. There's no reason to use land anywhere under the Gateway Arch.

Reading this post reminded me of something my mentor, Gary Hathaway, wrote upon leaving his less-than-fulfilling job at JEFF: "Happiness is seeing the Gateway Arch in your rearview mirror."

Gateway Arch has become a symbol of St. Louis, and in my opinion, it should belong to the people of St. Louis; it's their city, and they are the ones who see it daily. Why should I--or anyone living thousands of miles away--presume to dictate what the citizens of St. Louis should or shouldn't do in their own city?

The land in question (100 acres) was grabbed by the feds in 1984, decades after the arch's completion. This is another case of Washington overstepping its bounds and ignoring local needs out of some imagined sense of national significance.

And before anyone jumps on me for that last statement, consider the following from the Administrative History of JEFF:

March 15, 1983 Rep. Melvin Price introduces a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enlarge JEFF. The NPS opposes the bill due to a perceived "lack of national significance" and high costs.

And who was Rep. Melvin Price? He was a Congressional representative, you may have guessed, from East Saint Louis.

Pork, I tell you, pork. The expansion of JEFF is yet another example of an elected representative sending pork home so he can get re-elected.

I think it is a great idea. I lived in St. Louis for 7 years up until July and I went to the Arch once. I would love to see better use of the area and have it more accessible from downtown. The Arch is cool, but it is a one time deal for most people. To develop that area with other things in additon to the Arch would be awesome in my opinion and would draw people down there once and bring them back again. An aquarium in St. Louis would be an amazing addition to the city and would be such a great use of the river front. I have always thought St. Louis never made very good use out of the river front anywhere and it is about time they do. Laclede's Landing is nothing but a party zone and provides places for drinking and gambling, it does not provide any entertainment for families.

Great, another NickDonald's... haven't we learned over and over and over what happens when you build in the floodplain? Collective amnesia at its finest.

So I say let St. Louis have its own case of amnesia and build a NickDonald's in a floodplain if that's what it wants. It is really not something of vital national interest that calls for the meddlers in DC to decide upon.

The land should never have been taken by the Feds in the first place. I've been there and agree, something a little more developed than what they currently have would be a boon for the area and the citizens of St. Louis.

The St. Louis Arch is a well known unit for NPS employees to get there first crack at a permanent job and, hopefully, find work at better park and leave after less than a year. This is a tourist attraction that could easily be run by a multiplicity of other entities, take your pick, rather than the Dept. of Interior. Currently it is nothing more than an NPS career turnstile.

And then 5 years from now after a week of rain somewhere upstream they'll claim it's a federal disaster area and beg for emergency relief dollars to bail out the karaoke bars, souvenir shops, parking garages, and Hooter-Rock Cafe restaurant chains... no thanks.

I was born and raised in St. Louis and I think the Arch should stay just the way it is. It is close to Union station , the Law library and City Hall, and Laclead's Landing. If Senator Danforth wants to develope something then he can spend money on Laclead's Landing. What Sentor Danforth has forgotten the property the Arch sits on has repeatly flooded over the years. As a child I remember them closing the Arch so they could pump water out of it's legs. It belongs to the NPS and should stay that way. The City of St. Louis local government has been known in the past for not spending their money prudently what a waste if the Arch was to fall in disrepare. As far as an aquariam is concerned it should be placed in Forrest Park where the Zoo, Science Museum, and Art Museum are. There is still plenty of space in and around Forrest Park.

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