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.

Of course, East St. Louis is in Illinois, and there is a vested interest from the East St. Louis perspective in having the Arch area not be cluttered; it's an amazing view across the river. However, East St. Louis is one of the most depressed cities in the entire country - just an utter mess, and the view from the Arch toward East St. Louis already offers a view into the sadness of life in that poor, dismal town. An East St. Louis rep may have been the one who introduced the legislation, but the town across the river from the Arch hasn't received any of the benefit.

I don't really have an opinion on this matter. When I'm there, I get all kinds of negative feelings - from seeing the courthouse where the Dred Scott decision was made to the underground museum of westward expansion. The official name of the Arch park is a symbol of an imperialism that makes me sick. I can see something symbolic in removing the Arch from the national parks system; if it were framed as a step in renouncing the romanticism of westward expansion and genocide (the museum does a halfway decent job of telling that story - but only as much as a government museum telling its own malicious misadventure can), then it would be completely worthwhile.

For me, I like to visit the Arch in the way I like to visit graveyards - they are vivid reminders of all the sorrow in our world, allowing us to remember and re-connect with past people. It's why I like to go to the Battle of Little Bighorn, Antietam, or Gettysburg. The Arch, whether locally controlled or nationally controlled, for me is a very sad place - whether it's seeing East St. Louis and being reminded of poverty and racism in our society, turning west and seeing the courthouse of the Dred Scott decision and being reminded of how the rule of law can be used to support great injustice, or looking further west with all the mixed feelings of beauty and wonder mixed with expansion and genocide. Our national park system will always be based on ill gotten gains. It is perhaps most appropriate that the Arch is in that system, and perhaps most appropriate that it is a prime candidate to leave that system.

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

The whole don't build in a flood plain argument doesn't hold water. If humans didn't build where floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires, drought, and other natural disasters occur, then humans wouldn't be able to build or live virtually anywhere on the planet. People are attracted to water, and it's not really others' business to say, "Tsk, tsk. All you people should move." It's just another red herring to divert from the real issue: Local people should have local control of their resources.

Oh, and by the way, the feds already built a parking garage and an UNDERGROUND museum at the arch. Talk about waiting for a bailout from a flood...

While Chicago's lakefront is one of the best utilizations of any city's downtown shorelines in the nation, Millennium Park was designed more with an eye of regenerating "local" interest in the Grant Park area than as a major source of tourism. With their existing status as a major convention site and facilities including the Museum Campus, Buckingham Fountain, the Magnificent Mile, the upcomming Navy Pier Hotel andCasino, along with the Summer Festival series (Taste of Chicago, the Air and Water Show, Blues Fest, Venecian Night, etc.) Millennius Park was hardly a required improvement, just another in the long line of mayoral whims akin to the bulldosing and redevelopment of Meigs Field into a lakefront park. St. Louis on the other hand, still retains the economic and visual blight that is East St. Louis, IL. directly across the river from any upgrade to the area surrounding the Gateway Arch. That said, the city should be allowed to customize the district into whatever viable source of revenue generating development it sees fit, although many of the better ideas have been put into place elsewhere along the Great River. For instance, where St. Louis would most likely have been a better fit, the National Mississippi River Aquarium and Museum has already been established in Dubuque (?), and does quite a competent job of displaying the history of the peoples, aquatic life and of the river dating back thousands of years. And while a site in a major city might lend some credence to the "bigger and better" notion, the idea would lose some of its luster to the "its been done before" mindset. The appropriate national history museum, as stated above, simply won't be competently done out of reluctance for correlating this monument with the true starting point for the genocide of western exapnsion, a true double entndre if ever there was one. Hotels, McArch's (no wait, that's too perfect), tee-shirts-R-us and the like simply don't fill the void. A water park on the river front.....hum, who cares if it periodically floods? Might be a novel idea, a self-flooding water park! Or how about green space, akin to the original look of the area surrounding the monument. Green space bordered by freeway overpasses........never mind. The real shame is that just a stone's throw from the arch is a wonderful riverfront region, already equipped with the majority of "notions", real and otherwise, that have been bandied about for inclusion in the monument redevelopment. But given that this structure is indeed almost solely a tourist destination, catering to that crowd will be the most likely factor in the final decision making process. And since the revenue generated by any resculpturing of the district will benefit local interests, the burden for procurement and distribution of any funding associated with this project, and thereby the content of the actual design of the project, should be the responsibility of those in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, not a directive from the national bureaucracy that is the NPS. Like they have black ink from which to draw as they see fit anyway. Yet I'm certain that Congressional lobbying at its finest will indeed win out, like it or not.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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


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.