St. Louis seeks to transform downtown parks, green space

Tuesday, January 29, 2008
This artist's rendering showed part of a proposed downtown park in St. Louis. (Gateway Foundation of St. Louis)

ST. LOUIS -- The city of St. Louis wants to reinvent more than a mile of parks and green space downtown, with ideas that include everything from tree houses designed by renowned architects to the creation of an urban ice skating rink.

City officials are hoping that private organizations will sponsor projects for the Gateway Mall, a stretch of land downtown known for its views of the Gateway Arch.

While there's no time frame or cost estimate for the entire project, backers are quick to point out it's also not pie-in-the-sky: an organization called the Gateway Foundation has pledged about $25 million for a new urban sculpture garden on two blocks of land, just east of the city's civil courts building. They plan for the sculpture garden to open next year.

"We are on the move. We are beginning the process of making this happen," Mayor Francis Slay said Monday at a downtown news conference.

The city's planning director, Rollin Stanley, said the space under consideration is the size of 49 football fields. Less than half of that is park land and it's not continuous, broken up by downtown buildings and streets.

The mall begins at Kiener Plaza, a few blocks west of the Mississippi riverfront and the 630-foot Arch. A plan calls for the creation of five distinct areas called "rooms" that continue to Aloe Plaza, a park across from the Union Station shopping mall.

One, called a neighborhood room, would create a new recreation space, aimed mainly at the roughly 10,000 downtown residents. Stanley talked about a play area for children that might include a tree house village, where famed architects could be asked to design a house.

At Aloe Plaza, one idea is to create a lake around Carl Milles' Meeting of the Waters fountain, made up of elaborate bronze sculptural pieces. The lake could offer a place to eat lunch, or skate in the winter.

Other ideas include a new dog run or an urban hallway, a path with innovative lighting features that would link all of the green spaces together and give people a place to go for a walk or run.

The plan Stanley presented came from Thomas Balsley Associates of New York and Urban Strategies Inc. of Toronto, he said. The Gateway Foundation paid for the plan.

Michelle Swatek, executive director of the St. Louis chapter of the American Institute of Architects, applauded the Gateway Foundation for its work to create the sculpture garden. She had not seen Monday's proposal for the Gateway Mall, but said the chapter had concerns with previous plans presented in recent years. "We had been hoping for bolder ideas, better space definition, intimates spaces, exciting edges and integration of technology," she said.

Many with her organization had hoped for an interactive feature downtown using technology in a creative way to tell visitors about other attractions and features in the region, she said.

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