Arch renovation project completion pushed back to 2016

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 | 5:21 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — The long-anticipated project to improve the area around the Gateway Arch won't be completed by 2015 as originally hoped.

A construction timeline released Tuesday calls for the $380 million project to wrap up in 2016, about a half-year behind schedule, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Organizers originally wanted to complete the upgrade by the Arch's 50th anniversary on Oct. 28, 2015, but say it has become obvious in recent weeks there is too much to get done to meet that timeline. Wide-ranging improvements include construction of a park-like area over Interstate 70 to bridge the Arch area with the rest of downtown, as well as landscaping improvements, rerouted roads and other work funded by public and private money.

"It's really, really complex," said Maggie Hales, executive director of CityArchRiver 2015, the foundation behind the project.

The project has been hurt partially by recent delays, such as the federal government shutdown this fall. But directors of the organizations managing overall construction — CityArchRiver, the Great Rivers Greenway trail district and the National Park Service — identified three key issues in not having it finished by 2015.

First, leaders decided to break the overhaul into several smaller jobs to make it easier for local firms to win bids, but slowing the construction process.

Second, the National Park Service insisted on keeping the grounds accessible during construction. The Arch draws 2.5 million annual visitors. That meant, for example, a parking garage will be removed to make way for a grass amphitheater, children's garden and pathway to Laclede's Landing, but the demolition was pushed back to next fall at the earliest.

The third factor was simply the desire of the National Park Service to make sure everything is done correctly, rather rushing to meet the 2015 deadline.

"We want good design. We don't want to rush into something we regret," said Tom Bradley, superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which includes the Arch and its grounds.

By the 2015 anniversary, officials say, reflecting pools and paths should be done, along with new sloping trails south of the Arch to the riverfront. Streets will be upgraded, new bike trails along the riverfront will be finished and the park-over-the-highway will be landscaped.

But the northern paths to the river won't be finished until December 2015, and the renovated Museum of Westward Expansion beneath the Arch isn't scheduled to open until May 2016.

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