In February of 2009, City to River was created with a mission to advocate for improved connections between the neighborhoods of the Central Riverfront and the Mississippi River. Since that time, City to River has advanced a vision for better connectivity through the restoration of the downtown street grid, with the long range vision of replacing the downtown lanes of the soon-to-be-former Interstate 70 with a new at-grade boulevard.
Two events led to the formation of the City to River organization. The first was the announcement that I-70 would be rerouted away from downtown over the new I-70 bridge. The second was the announcement by the National Park Service that it would begin a process to update the General Management Plan (GMP) for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (JNEM). This would mark the first time in the history of the Arch that the GMP had been updated.
It’s long been recognized that downtown is cut off from the Arch grounds and its riverfront. Since its construction, the Arch has stood alone on an island, surrounded by a moat of infrastructure barriers. Indeed, in the GMP process, improving connections between downtown, the Arch grounds, and the riverfront was a recurring theme heard from the public and the many planners involved.
Improving physical connections is a strategy, but ultimately, connections are about people. A downtown with more people will naturally bring more people to the riverfront and Arch grounds. A downtown with more businesses, residences, and events brings more people to the riverfront. The vision of City to River is that better connections between the City and the Arch and riverfront means more people embracing the core of the region, the Metro East, the Mississippi River and the Arch grounds.
The preferred alternative of the GMP was to hold an international design competition to establish the plans to improve and manage the 20-30 years of the JNEM. Ultimately, the Michael Van Valkenberg’s MVVA team’s design was chosen as the winner. Since that announcement, there has been a continuing process carried out by various interested parties to finalize a design plan. That design will be presented to the public for the first time January 26, 2011.
This will be the first opportunity for the public to see the final plan for how the various consultants, government agencies, design team members and others propose to improve the JNEM and its connections to downtown and the riverfront. According to the invitation to the January 26 event, there will then be further opportunities for the public to comment on the plan.
The goal of the City + Arch + River Foundation, sponsors of the design competition, is to have improvements to the Arch and its surroundings completed by October, 2015, the 50th Anniversary of the completion of the Arch. At the January 26 event, proponents are supposed to be announcing a preliminary budget for the total project. Then the challenge is placed back on the people of St. Louis to raise the necessary funds to build the project.
The remaking of the Arch grounds is the most ambitious planning and development effort in the St. Louis region since the revitalization of Forest Park. The results of the Forest Park master planning and redevelopment effort have been nothing short of outstanding. The park is a huge draw for people and is the most beautifully polished jewel in our region. City to River is eager to see the final plans for the future of the Arch and its surroundings and looks forward to participating in the community effort to restore the connections between downtown St. Louis and its riverfront.