URBAN SPACES

Downtown Progress: Arch Grounds and the Gateway Mall

Image courtesy of Gateway Arch Park Foundation

Fifty-two years after its completion, the Gateway Arch still stands as the United States’ tallest monument. Historic for its iconic shape, the Arch and its grounds have been under construction since 2013. Organizations including Bi-State Development, the National Park Service, City of St. Louis, Great Rivers Greenway, Jefferson National Park Association and and Missouri Department of Transportation have worked over the last few years to renovate and preserve the monument’s world-class reputation. But what has been done, and where does the project stand now?

Ryan McClure, the Director of Communications and Activation for the Gateway Arch Park Foundation (formerly CityArchRiver), explains the reasons for this project, one of which being, “How do we connect this monument and park that represents our city to the city itself?” Crediting the National Park Services for its work preserving the park grounds over the years, McClure says all parties involved and the community wanted improvements for reasons such as an increased number of park activities, better infrastructure and connectivity to the city.

Starting with “park over the highway,” construction kicked off in 2013 with the reconstruction of Interstate 44, along with roads surrounding the park. This phase of construction was completed in 2015, along with the new Luther Ely Smith Square. Following this phase, the project partners broke ground to begin what will be the new and expanded Visitor’s Center and museum under the Arch. Slated for completion and grand opening by July 4, 2018, the Arch will have a new and improved museum with new exhibits touching on the westward expansion and St. Louis’ intricate role in it. Tourists and residents will also be able to enjoy new amenities including a gift shop, café and a replica of the observation deck at the top of the Arch for those who can’t or don’t want to take the 630 feet climb up.

To ensure the outside has as much appeal as the inside, the Riverfront and Kiener Plaza (which is part of the Gateway Mall) were also redesigned and allow each location to coordinate and flow with the Downtown and Arch ground improvements. The new design includes trails extending from the Arch Grounds to Kiener Plaza and along the historic Riverfront, and in total added 5.4 miles of bike and running paths.

The riverfront received its own set of additions and upgrades including a new amphitheater, new lighting and an improved infrastructure to prevent flooding closures. Additionally, Kiener Plaza recently finished its reconstruction and opened to the public this past May. Kiener Plaza now contains more entrance paths, better parking, additionally greenery, a new interactive fountain (splash pad) and added seating. “One part of our design focus was making sure Kiener Plaza flowed well with the Citygarden, as well as Downtown itself,” says McClure.

As residents await Gateway Arch Park’s final touches, McClure notes elements such as the new land bridge over the highway, better traffic flow and new landscapes that are now available for all to enjoy. This winter, St. Louisans can enjoy Winterfest at the Arch in Kiener Plaza, which includes an ice skating rink and lots of fun events beginning Nov. 18 with the Ameren Missouri Festival of Lights. Progress can be monitored through the organization’s live webcams.

As more development emerges, McClure notes Downtown activities and energy are anticipated to increase in the years to come. “The Gateway Arch is St. Louis’ undeniable calling card,” McClure said. “It’s how people know us.”