Arches, and how to fund them

Friday, October 22, 2004

Half a loaf is better than none. That's what I've been told. Is one slice just as good?

Cape Girardeau's elected leaders have decided to keep a small section of the old bridge, including the arch over the road.

At one time, I heartily advocated in this column that we should keep the whole bridge, rust and all, and turn it into an over-the-river outlet mall for locally handcrafted items. My favorite: swans made out of empty bleach bottles.

But the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Coast Guard put the kibosh on my brilliant idea, citing some sort of legal contracts, barge safety and stuff like that.

Now that most of the old bridge is gone, I must admit I don't miss it. What I like is the unobstructed view of the new bridge, which is a piece of art, as far as I'm concerned.

As for the arch and whether it's enough of a loaf, I guess it can be viewed this way: We're getting the whole arch, so maybe that's a whole loaf. You think?

Saving the arch, we are told, will cost about $97,000. That's an estimate. Most estimates that involve the government and your and my tax dollars are rarely accurate. They tend to be on the low side.

The city, in agreeing to keep the old bridge's arch, conceded it doesn't have $97,000 lying around to spend on history. The city council hopes other funding can be obtained for the arch preservation.

Another possibility raised was using some of the revenue from the motel-restaurant sales tax that can be spent for tourism.

I like the idea of private funding. I don't much care for using tax revenue. But time and again this city has received financial support from private sources for worthwhile community projects.

If there's a way to tie the bridge arch to the new park planned for Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus, that would be great.

Like many other river rats who are being reconnected to the Mississippi thanks to Riverfront Park improvements and the spectacular floodwall murals, I can hardly wait for the River Campus to be developed as another way to see and enjoy the river.

Perhaps the most original idea I've heard in a while is presented on today's Opinion page. If you haven't already, please read Councilman Charlie Herbst's suggestion for putting up welcome arches at key entrances to Cape Girardeau.

Herbst made his suggestion in response to the call for suggestions on how to use unspent tourism revenue from the motel-restaurant sales tax. More than 100 ideas were submitted.

While Herbst and I may not be in sync on how to best use tax dollars, I find his arch vision to be interesting and compelling.

The history of public funding for major public monuments is voluminous.

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France, but the money was raised privately. In the United States, funding for the base of the statue was raised from private donations -- mainly spurred by Joseph Pulitzer's newspapers, which promised to publish the name of every contributor, no matter how small the amount.

The Eiffel Tower was built for a world's fair, and investors got their money back in less than a year from ticket sales for the elevator ride to the top.

In both cases, the monuments were something of a hard sell. Councilman Herbst has his work cut out for him.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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