UPDATE: New York firm to take Gateway Arch grounds to new heights

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 | 4:19 p.m. CDT; updated 10:10 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 27, 2010

ST. LOUIS — A New York landscape architecture firm has been selected to redesign the grounds of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

The firm, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, based in Brooklyn, beat out four other finalists in an international competition to redesign the 91 acres around the national monument in downtown St. Louis. The competition, which was sponsored by the National Park Service and a private foundation, CityArchRiver2015, began in December and drew about 50 teams.

The firm's plans include a riverside plaza, an amphitheater and a bird sanctuary. Organizers estimate the cost at $300 million but say it could go higher.

The winner was to be announced Friday, but the teams began getting notified of the decision Monday, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The blog first reported the winner's selection Tuesday, and competition organizers then made the news official later Tuesday.

The firm, which declined comment Wednesday, will be introduced at a news conference at 10 a.m. Friday at the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.

The Park Service has said it wants the grounds redesign done by Oct. 28, 2015, the 50th anniversary of the topping of the Arch.

The firm will be working with the city of St. Louis, the Park Service and civic leaders to refine its plan, according to a release from competition organizers.

"Between now and January, we will be challenging the MVVA team to rise to the challenge to do what's best for the city, for the region and for this national park," St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said.

A jury of eight architecture experts who reviewed the plans of the five finalists said MVVA was "a strong team with solid methodology." The firm and the team it assembled "convey intelligence and provide clear technical support for their design proposals," the jury said.

In its proposal, the firm said the redesigned Arch grounds would serve as a "celebration of the national significance of this historic place."

The proposal stressed improving the grounds while honoring the original design by architect Eero Saarinen and landscaper Dan Kiley. Team members also pointed out the potential to take something respected by designers and the public and make it even greater.

"There is much more to be admired and revered," Michael Van Valkenburgh told the jurors last month.

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