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What to Do with Gateway Arch Grounds?

The St. Louis Gateway Arch and grounds sits along the Mississippi River but separated from downtown St. Louis by a sunken freeway.  The New York Times reported earlier this month about how the grounds are at the center of a dispute between a group of prominent residents who want to develop parts of the park, including construction of a cultural attraction, most likely a museum, and the National Park Service, which administers the site and is cool to some of the group’s proposals.

Local leaders are arguing that the riverfront is a prime piece of real estate important for economic development and urban character. Preservationists have generally been against efforts to significantly alter the grounds. What’s interesting also is a bill in congress being proposed by St. Louis area congressman William Lacy Clay that would, in a way, compel the Park Service to comply with the museum proposal. In the Times:

The bill seeks to downgrade the status of the grounds, which would be on the National Register of Historic Places. The arch would retain National Historic Landmark status.The legislation would authorize the secretary of the interior to allow the private trust to “facilitate the planning, construction and operation of a cultural facility” on the memorial grounds.“The bill allows for a lease arrangement that would allow the Park Service to take the Danforth Foundation’s money,” Mr. Clay said. “The Park Service will have to sign off on the terms and conditions of that relationship — those are my parameters.”

The dispute raises issues about preservation versus change, local versus National Park Service control of an urban park that is both city park and nationally significant, and possible precedent for other parks in the National Park Service, particularly those in urban areas.

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