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.