Landmarks Association of St. Louis submitted the following comment on the draft General Management Plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial to the National Park Service:
Landmarks Association of St. Louis, Inc. was founded in 1959 with a mission to “promote, preserve and enhance St. Louis’ architectural heritage and encourage sound planning and good contemporary design.” Both facets of our mission statement compel our comment on the draft General Management Plan (GMP) for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (JNEM).
Generally, we find that the GMP includes many strong and useful ideas for a future design program that would preserve the unique modern landscape of the Arch grounds while transforming the connections between the landscape and surrounding urban fabric. Landmarks Association commends the National Park Service (NPS) on recognizing the extent to which the condition of the existing connections are a hindrance to both JNEM and downtown St. Louis. We are supportive of many of the ideas common to all of the Alternatives under consideration, including streetscape unification plans, improvements to interpretive programming and museum exhibits, increased visitor activities, improved pedestrian access and encouragement of development of the east riverfront.
True to our mission, Landmarks Association makes the following recommendations for the final GMP to clarify preservation of the Arch grounds and expand the range of possible options for improving connectivity:
1. The NPS should allow removal of I-70 in the GMP. The presence of I-70 at the western edge of the Arch grounds is the biggest obstacle to pedestrian access, at the Old Courthouse, Washington Avenue and other major entrance points. With the projected opening in 2012 of a new Mississippi River Bridge carrying I-70, the elevated and depressed lanes that sever the Arch grounds from downtown will no longer be necessary interstate lanes. One possibility at that time would be exploring a merger of I-70 and Memorial Drive into an attractive at-grade boulevard that would carry through traffic while creating a softer, pedestrian-friendly western edge to the Arch grounds. This idea could be explored through a design competition and traffic study. The current GMP alternatives would not allow exploration of this idea. The final GMP should include removal of I-70 within the parameters of a design competition.
2. The GMP should contain other options for a design competition. The NPS has included in the GMP alternatives a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the problems and opportunities of improved access to the Arch grounds. The preferred alternative calls for a major design competition for resolution of these issues, but we think that NPS has already created a framework for practical, incremental solutions. We think that a major design competition has the potential to generate design ideas incompatible with a landscape designated as a National Historic Landmark containing an iconic work of modern architecture. Division of the competition into phases based on specific areas where there are access problems could allow for an incremental implementation that resolves design problems faster and preserves the integrity of the JNEM landscape. An incremental approach would also allow time to build needed alliances with public and private entities that control infrastructure crucial to improved access but not contained within JNEM. The GMP should not bind the process to a single major design competition.
3. Site history must be part of program expansion. The St. Louis riverfront was the entry point into the city for nearly 200 years. The riverfront’s architectural, commercial and cultural history is key to understanding the significance of the JNEM site, and current interpretive program could be expanded to better tell that story. Architectural elements and artifacts from the riverfront could be prominently displayed in existing or new JNEM cultural facilities or made part of new construction.
4. The GMP should improve access and connections at all sides of the Arch grounds. The current GMP alternatives are weighted toward improvement of access at the western side of the grounds. Improved access at both the south and north ends of the grounds could forge connections between JNEM and the Chouteau’s Landing and Laclede’s Landing areas, both of whose development have suffered from circulation problems. The north end of the Arch grounds are adjacent to the historic Eads Bridge and its MetroLink station, but currently access and visibility of those resources from JNEM is impaired. The central riverfront is unattractive and lacks adequate pedestrian access. We strongly feel that preservation of the cobblestone levee is crucial to the integrity of the riverfront, but feel that parking is an inappropriate use of that levee. While not directly under NPS control, the riverfront offers possibilities for destination-type activity ranging from heritage education to restaurants or other venues on boats and moored structures. Improving activity on the levee itself is key to drawing JNEM visitors to the river itself.