Park Service sets vision for Arch grounds -

Park Service sets vision for Arch grounds

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The shimmering Gateway Arch on the banks of the Mississippi River is St. Louis' calling card. But the iconic monument set off from the rest of the city is, well, set off from the rest of the city.

The National Park Service hopes to change that. It has released its final management plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the 91-acre park that includes the Arch and the historic Old Courthouse which draws throngs of visitors.

The plan stresses the need for better links between downtown St. Louis, the Arch grounds, the Mississippi riverfront, nearby commercial areas and East St. Louis, Ill., just across the river.

One idea being considered is a seasonal water taxi to ferry visitors across the river between the two cities, just one of the changes under consideration.

"People are happy to see we aren't going by a 1962 plan anymore," said the park's assistant superintendent Frank Mares on Friday. Architect Eero Saarinen's "wonderful, Modernist masterpiece" built from 1963 to 1965 will be preserved forever, but the region around it has changed and the management plan needed an update. "It takes Eero Saarinen's vision and moves it to a relevancy for people today and in the future," he said.

The Park Service held 11 public meetings, attended by nearly a 1,000 people. Members of the public made it clear they want easier connections to get onto the Arch grounds.

The plan calls for improved links to the grounds across Memorial Drive, which runs between the Arch and the Old Courthouse, by use of a single elevated deck, multiple bridges or improved pedestrian crossings.

More would be done to educate the public, improve services offered to them and to increase special events held at the park.

The Museum of Westward Expansion, an underground museum beneath the Arch, would be renovated with more interactive exhibits and a research facility.

The details haven't been decided yet. The Park Service wants a major contest to be held, where outside architects and designers could pitch their ideas for protecting historic and cultural aspects of the park while revitalizing the grounds.

Often such design contests are funded by private organizations, and the money to hold it hasn't yet been secured. If $1 million or $2 million is donated soon, the hope would be to have a design winner picked by the end of 2010.

"That's fast track, the best possible case scenario," Mares said. From there, the hope would be to have changes to the park in place between 2014 and 2016, he said.

In recent years, former Republican Sen. John Danforth had been advocating for improvements at the Arch grounds. The private Danforth Foundation had even proposed a $50 million contribution toward a new cultural attraction or destination museum on the Arch grounds, an idea backed by several civic leaders. It also drew ire from others who thought it could detract from the monument and park.

The financial offer was later withdrawn, with the foundation citing the falling stock market.

Lynn McClure, Midwest Regional Director for the Washington-D.C.-based National Parks Conservation Association, said she likes the final plan because it still allows room for outside ideas, while protecting heritage. "The design competition will allow for whole new sets of eyes looking at this site," she said.

The management plan includes other options that have been considered during the process; National Park Service officials must wait 30 days before they can sign off on the preferred option, a procedural step.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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