Guest Commentary: Suddenly Urgent Arch Tax Is Misguided

The 3/16 cent "Arch tax" bill that would authorize a public vote on Proposition P raises questions of priorities and transparency, and the supposed urgency of the measure is highly questionable. Great public works projects can take time, and the imaginative and daring Gateway Arch landscape went through funding hoops between its emerging from the 1948 design competition and the completion of landscaping in 1982. Despite bad infrastructure around the site – largely ignored by the current CityArchRiver plan, in the face of wide public support for removing I-70 – the landscape was worth the time it took. Icons are proven over time, along with the dreams of civic leaders.

As an architectural historian who was a member of one of the design teams in the City+Arch+River 2015 design competition, I fully understand the importance of sensitively addressing the deficiencies in the infrastructural mess around the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The vibrant landscape created by two of modern architecture's greatest practitioners, Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley, has become the city's entrance and deserves our concerted effort to make it better. Yet most of the early phase improvements, from the "lid" to the lowest-cost version of revamping Leonor K. Sullivan Drive, are already funded through the entities working on improving the Arch grounds: the National Park Service, Great Rivers Greenway and CityArchRiver.

The sales tax increase, which would have to be passed by St. Louis County and either the city or St. Charles County, would raise $38 million a year of which $11.4 million a year would go to Great Rivers Greenway for Arch grounds projects. The rest of the money would go to local parks and Great Rivers Greenway's general funding. All of these things could be funded separately, with votes by the public on the necessity of each item. Bundling these diverse projects together short-changes public input on regional park priorities, while creating a tax increase that might prevent future necessary measures to support parks and conservation. In the end, binding the region now would be worse than leaving the Arch grounds unimproved.

Tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. the Parks and Environment Committee of the Board of Aldermen will consider Board Bill 258 that would enable a public vote on the 3/16 cent sales tax increase that might raise the city sales tax to as much as 12%, even though the "lid" and other key Arch grounds projects are already funded, and even though the National Park Service and Great Rivers Greenway already have access to public funding to make improvements. Why do we need to circumvent these agencies' transparent and defined functions?

Consider taking the time to contact one of the Parks and Environment Committee members and expressing your concerns. Here is who is on the committee:

Joseph D. Roddy (17th), Chair – [email protected]
Lyda Krewson (28th), Vice-Chair – [email protected]
Donna Baringer (16th) – [email protected]
Chris Carter (27th) – [email protected]
Antonio D French (21st) – [email protected]
Joseph Vaccaro (23rd) – [email protected]
Thomas Albert Villa (11th) – [email protected]
Frank Williamson (26th) – [email protected]

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