Bystanders on the Arch project

October 13, 2013 

The Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park in East St. Louis provides the premiere view of the Gateway Arch. It also provides a sad reminder of where Illinoisans find themselves on the Arch revitalization project: On the outside looking in.

By 2015, in time for the 50th anniversary of the Arch, it's expected that $380 million of public and private money will be spent updating and improving its grounds and surrounding areas. But all the work will be in Missouri. Not a penny is slated for Illinois, even though the east bank of the Mississippi River is envisioned as an integral part of the national park.

The private foundation CityArchRiver 2015, which is raising funds to help pay for the work, candidly admits that it is meeting just nine of its 10 design goals. Goal No. 10? Illinois, of course.

Part of the problem is that Missouri leaders still don't see Illinois as an equal partner in any regional discussion; also, Illinois leaders were mostly apathetic about the project, maybe because of the many failed attempts in the past to expand the federal park to Illinois.

Admittedly, there are many obstacles to developing the Illinois side including land acquisition, crime in East St. Louis and the scarcity of public dollars. Still, this seems like one more missed opportunity for Illinois.

Expanding the park to East St. Louis is still something CityArchRiver eventually hopes to do. The foundation mentions it near the end of its fund-raising brochure as "post-2015."

The fund-raising campaign, by the way, is called "Framing a Masterpiece." And indeed, the new design is beautiful. But without an Illinois component, the frame will remain unfinished.

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