The $380 million project to renovate the grounds at the Gateway Arch hit an avoidable bureaucratic snag last week that threatens to delay the project's already ambitious timeline.
The National Parks Service was scheduled to give federal approval to the renovation project Wednesday but refused because fundraisers didn't turn in their paperwork.
Why? Because the parks service has a stack of tardy paperwork of their own that's been buried in legal negotiations for more than two years.
The delay is frustrating for St. Louisans who want to see the grounds expansion finished by the Arch's 50 year anniversary, October 28, 2015. Groundbreaking starts Thursday.
The paperwork should be completed in four to eight weeks, says the parks service, but the board that must give approval for the project doesn't meet again until March.
The parks service is officially in charge of the Arch, but the trams that drive tourists up to the top are run by the Bi-State Development Agency (commonly known as Metro,) which stepped in when federal developers ran out of money half a century ago.
The official agreement managing the trams -- an agreement both sides say has worked well for 50 years -- expired in January and has been under review for two and a half years.
"What we want to do is to continue to have the arrangement as it has been for the last 50 years," says John Nations, Metro's CEO and president. "It has taken, fairly stated, an extended amount of time in order to establish that."
Both Metro and the parks service say there's nothing contentious or scandalous about negotiations for the new contract, though officials can't offer specifics because it's a pending legal matter. The sticking point seems to be in making a decades-old contract meet modern rules.
"The regulatory world is a lot more complex in 2013 than it was in 1968," Nations says.St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay says it best:
The Arch is made of steel. The grounds are made of lawyers. #fgs— MayorSlay.com (@MayorSlay) November 8, 2013
The final agreement should be ready in 4-8 weeks, says Ann Honious, public information officer at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
"There's no question that we will have an agreement and it will be with Metro," Honious says. "The negotiations have pretty much concluded. We are all in agreement." Honious dismissed fears that the agreement's delay meant money from $10 tram tickets would leave the park or even the state instead of going toward tram maintenance and improvements.
"The possibility of the income from the tram leaving the state or the city was never a discussion," says Honious. "It stays at the park."
Find out what this means for the Arch's future after the jump. Unlike the National Parks Service's agreement with Metro, their agreement with CityArchRiver 2015 -- the project's non-profit fundraising arm -- is signed and ready to go.
But CityArchRiver 2015 says they won't turn it in.
"We have signed those agreements, but we have told the parks service we cannot turn those over to them until the Bi-State (Metro) agreement renewal is finalized," says Ryan McClure, the non-profit's communication's director. "It is our hope that this would not cause a delay."
Without a final agreement, McClure says, moving forward with the Arch expansion is "a risk for everyone involved."
"You want to be certain of the future maintenance and operations of those trams," McClure says. "It's critical not just for us but for the Arch in general that that get finalized."
The parks service needs the signed agreement with CityArchRiver 2015 before granting official federal approval for the multi-million dollar project.
"We believe that these agreements can be finalized quickly," McClure says. "We would hope that happens soon. We know it can happen soon. It's critical for the future of this project and for the park that the agreement be renewed."
Organizers are still moving forward with a groundbreaking planned for noon Thursday at the Arch grounds.
Want to see a video of what the project should look like once finished? Check out this video: Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at Lindsay.Toler@RiverfrontTimes.com.