Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Arch Grounds Renovation Is a Very Public Project. Its Business Must Be, Too

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Arch Grounds Renovation Is a Very Public Project. Its Business Must Be, Too

Article excerpt

The transparency promised by all parties to the $380 million Gateway Arch grounds renovation has been smudged because the head of Great Rivers Greenway failed to tell her board that she was agreeing to double taxpayers' contributions to a small, but significant, part of the project.

Executive Director Susan Trautman signed an agreement about a year ago doubling the agency's commitment to pay yearly operating and maintenance costs, the Post-Dispatch's David Hunn reported Wednesday.

Ms. Trautman approved the increased spending without running the proposal past her board; consideration by the board at a public meeting might have been valuable. GRG, after all, is spending public money from the Arch-parks sales tax increase passed in 2013. GRG already was committed to paying about $1 million a year toward landscape maintenance and operations.

Under the new agreement, GRG also will pick up about $1.3 million a year more for operating the expanded Arch facilities, not just the landscaping-related costs. The National Park Service, which owns the park and has partnered with GRG and the private CityArchRiver organization in the expansion, estimated the additional cost will be $2.6 million. GRG is responsible for about half that amount. CityArchRiver, the foundation formed to raise private donations for the project, will pick up the other half.

GRG managed Prop P, the 3/16-cent sales tax that is paying for $85 million in Arch grounds landscaping, safety and public-access improvements. The bulk of the money raised through the sales tax pays for the debt service on construction-related costs.

Ms. Trautman says she signed the most recent agreement because the Park Service earlier had refused to start construction on the project until it had an agreement in writing that someone else would cover the increased cost of ongoing operations.

Ms. Trautman and a former CityArchRiver executive familiar with details of the agreement between the organizations and the park service, say the real issue is a lack of information from the Park Service. The federal agency, they say, has failed to provide detailed financial information needed to determine what portion of additional costs will be covered by revenue generated by new amenities at the park. They say that GRG and the foundation shouldn't have to pay for expenses that should be borne by the Park Service.

That sounds reasonable. When more people visit the newly renovated Arch grounds, spending more money on food and concessions, the Park Service will gain additional revenue. The Park Service should give its partners the information they are seeking.

Let us not forget that this was always a complicated deal and a complicated three-corner relationship. The Park Service has never before been part of a private-public partnership of this scope. …

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