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Presentations under way for Archgrounds project

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ST. LOUIS -- Designers who want to reshape the Archgrounds and downtown riverfront are taking their cases today before the eight jurors who will decide which plan moves forward.

The five finalists are giving presentations during a day-long public event in the theater at Ameria's Center downtown.

About 150 people attended the opening session, that of the Weiss/Manfredi team of New York.

The eight jurors are to pick a winning design on Sept. 24, and the intent is for construction to be completed by Oct. 28, 2015, the 50th anniversary of the topping of the Arch.

Competition manager Donald Stastny opened the morning session by saying it's always good to hear from the people involved.

"No matter what is in the exhibits, it's always good to hear firsthand from the designers what their ideas are," Stastny said.

Michael Manfredi and Marion Weiss, principals of the first design team, said redesigning the Archgrounds and extending the park to the East St. Louis bank is a great challenge and opportunity. They spoke of the long-discussed difficulties of reaching the Archgrounds from downtown amidst the swirl of highway and busy street traffic.

"We find this incredible Gordian knot to be intriguing and incredibly challenging," Manfredi said.

Their team calls its plan "Full Circle," with a central theme being a wider pedestrian walkway on the Eads Bridge and a new pedestrian lane attached to the side of the Poplar Street bridge. It would form a circle for pedestrians and bicyclists that gets them to, and back from, the East Side.

The team also proposes to open a new entrance to the underground Arch museum that would face the Old Courthouse.

As with all the plans, Weiss/Manfredi would get pedestrians over Memorial Drive and the Interstate 70 depressed lanes -- long a frustration of tourists and hometowners alike.

Their plan calls for a wide, grassy walkway from the Old Courthouse that would lead directly into the new western entrance to a much larger underground museum.

The team also wants to build an amphitheater on the far south end of the Archgrounds and offer other activities, including perhaps a skateboard park underneath the overhead approaches to the Poplar Street bridge. Weiss described the spaghetti-like maze of bridges. "Fabulously dynamic architecture for free," beneath which their plan would draw people with activities.

They also want to use the top level of the parking garage on the north end as an area for a farmer's market, a cafe, an ice skating rink and other activities. The plan would also take out part of the garage for a wide staircase to Laclede's Landing, but also contemplates continued parking on the lower levels.

For each presentation, team members get 45 minutes to speak and show their PowerPoint graphics, and then jurors have 45 minutes of questions. Jurors asked Weiss/Manfredi about their plan for traffic on Memorial Drive, which they would close for one block at Market Street, and what they would do about parking. The team wants to build an underground garage beneath Luther Ely Smith Park in front of the Old Courthouse and provide other parking areas on the periphery of their great circle.

One juror asked if the team, by proposing a wide, glass-filled new western entrance to the museum, "isn't upstaging the Arch."

Weiss said the idea was to open a new visual connection between the park and the city.

Underway, as of 10:30 a.m. today, is the presentation of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates of New York. The last of the presentations is to finish by 6:30 p.m. today.



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