A Team Renovated a U. S. Landmark to Make It More Connected to Its City
BY CATHERINE ELTON
Gateway Arch and visitor center entrance in St. Louis, Missouri, USA
For more than a half century, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, USA has been an iconic guidepost. As the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere, it towers above the Mississippi River, connecting east and west in the heart of the country. Yet there's always been a disconnect between the iconic 630-foot (192-meter) landmark and the city it heralds.
Reaching the arch from other downtown attractions required a treacherous crossing of an interstate highway. The arch museum was awkwardly detached from the structure itself. And a massive parking facility on the arch grounds blocked tourist views. So government sponsors launched a five-year, US$380 million project—the largest public-private partnership (PPP) in U.S. National Park Service history—to improve access and expand attractions in a way that makes the arch feel like part of the city's center.
Yet the project team had to devise and execute strategies to manage an unusually broad and diverse stakeholder group—and mitigate the risks posed by involving so many players. The PPP included several partners from federal, regional, state and city governments, as well as private nonprofit organizations. And work was divided among 11 contractors. What's more, the team first had to convince a majority of taxpayers in St. Louis city and county to approve a ballot proposition to finance about a quarter of the project.
“It was complicated,” says Anna Leavey, program manager, Chouteau Greenway Project, Great Rivers Greenway, St. Louis. Great Rivers Greenway was a project partner. “It was all about trying to work with lots of different organizations and meet all their expectations.”
—Anna Leavey, Great Rivers Greenway, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
PHOTOS COURTESY OF COURTESY OF GATEWAY ARCH PARK FOUNDATION.
A new park over the highway helps connect the city's downtown and the Mississippi riverfront.
Benefits of Deconstruction
The project team transformed the space and experience around the arch, delivering a new museum, cohesively landscaped park grounds and greenway, underground parking and a park over the highway—all stitched seamlessly to connect the city's downtown and the Mississippi riverfront (see “Gateway Connections,” page 55). But with so many tasks, the team made a strategic decision to break down the project into individual components and divide the work among 11 major projects. In turn, general contractors were assigned to each major element and geographic area of the projects, such as the new central riverfront renovation, renovated park areas around the arch, a new visitor center and ongoing renovations to a nearby historic courthouse. All of these elements, when completed in 2020, will enhance the connection between the riverfront and the city.
The divide-and-conquer approach had multiple benefits. Most notably, it allowed the project team to accelerate the sequential schedule from the start, Ms. Leavey says. “We knew some components were less complex than other components and didn't involve design time that was as lengthy. Then other components, like the museum, we knew would take longer design time.” The team prioritized work that could be designed most quickly early on so the team could transition to construction for those elements while the design phase for more complicated facets continued, she says.
The federal procurement process prohibited project leaders from giving geographic preference for hiring. So breaking the project into smaller components was a way to increase participation by local companies, says Lonny Boring, senior project manager, Great Rivers Greenway, St. Louis. “We did this purposefully to optimize abilities for local contractors to participate,” he says. Ninety percent of the 158 subcontractor tasks were performed by local companies. This helped boost the project's economic benefit to the city and increased the diversity of the team—project goals that were important to the taxpayers and other key local stakeholders.
The sequential breakdown also allowed the team to gather lessons learned from earlier components and apply them to later ones, Ms. Leavey says. For example, unknowns discovered and documented during renovations for the South Park grounds led to changes on North Park grounds work months later. Those changes ultimately allowed the team to gain more than two months on the planned schedule, she says.
“Information that we learned from the South Park grounds project helped us eliminate the lengthy paperwork process involved in requests for information, architects’ supplemental instructions and change orders” for the North Park grounds work, she says.
2013: After voters approve a ballot proposition to provide US$90 million in funding for the Gateway Arch project, groundbreaking for some parts of the project begins.
2014: Gateway Arch grounds work begins.
2015: Work on the visitor center and museum expansion begins.
2016: CityArchRiver Foundation reaches US$250 million capital fundraising campaign goal, ensuring full funding for the arch park renovation project.
2017: Scheduled project completion is extended six months because of construction delays on the infrastructure tunnel.
July 2018: The grand opening of the new Gateway Arch National Park is held one month after the project is completed.
Lonny Boring, senior project manager, Great Rivers Greenway
Location: St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Experience: 20 years
Why did this project have special meaning to you?
This project was a once-in-a-lifetime or once-in-a-career opportunity to work with a large team to enhance the visitor experience at this icon for our region.
How do you relieve project stress?
You can't overlook the value of taking some time off. In order to avoid burnout, you have to take vacation sprinkled here and there.
What career lesson did you learn on this project?
Diversity, equity and inclusion is a big topic in the St. Louis region. Historically, we have not done an exemplary job of ensuring there is equal opportunity for minority-owned and disadvantaged businesses. But I think by setting a goal early on and articulating that to the community and working deliberately and transparently to reinforce those goals, you can achieve a real inclusive project.
All for One
Creating a unified team that spanned all levels of stakeholders wasn't easy. Each of the seven project partners—from different levels of government and a private foundation—had its own project culture, expectations, objectives, project management styles and even procedures and regulations for doing business, Mr. Boring says.
“Each organization had a different vocabulary and past experiences. It took us quite some time to effectively communicate because we were framing things based on our own organization's rules and procedures and the way each individual organization operated,” says Mr. Boring.
For instance, each partner differed on how to use contingency on the project, says Ms. Leavey. So the team had to build a consensus on which items should be deemed “must have” and which to consider “nice to have” to avoid scope creep. “Some partners manage the contingency as part of the overall project budget and something meant to be spent. Other partners managed contingency as a precious thing to be used for emergency situations and, hopefully, not all of it would be spent,” she says.
To break down those silos and cultivate a shared vision for decision making, the team held dedicated meetings to address the most problematic differences. The team contracted third-party facilitators to hold one large, all-day partnering session and several hourlong, smaller sessions for executives and key stakeholders. At these sessions, the team members participated in activities “aimed at getting to know each other outside of their project roles, understanding each other's perspectives and aligning project goals and expectations,” Ms. Leavey says. The meetings “helped foster respect and understanding and helped promote the notion of working as a team rather than as individual stakeholders.”
Getting community members on the same page from the start was just as critical. Their buy-in was needed to pass a referendum to ensure public funding and maintain support during construction that impacted traffic and access to the arch. While the results of an economic impact study showed a clear justification for the project, the team made sure to frame those benefits in a context that would resonate with voters in a city that's loyal to its Major League Baseball team. The pitch? The project team explained that the annual economic impact of renovating the arch would be equal to the spending by team fans for one baseball season.
“We were looking for something that would hit home—excuse the pun—and this was something people could relate to,” Ms. Leavey says.
A view of the Old Courthouse through the entrance to the visitor center. Above, construction of the promenade on the riverfront side
Clockwise from top left, the new entrance to the tram, an aerial view of the grounds during construction and a view of construction on the riverfront
Risk and Reward
Amid so much complexity, the team maintained a laser focus on creating efficiencies to ensure continuity across all facets of the project. The entire park area needed to look cohesive and share site-wide systems for electricity and irrigation.
“We took some of the risk out of project variance by supplying common elements and delivering them on time to each of the individual components,” says Mr. Boring. He procured everything from lighting fixtures to water fountains and trash cans so they would look alike, and purchased and mixed the soils so they would function equally across the park.
—Lonny Boring, Great Rivers Greenway, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
One risk that threatened to introduce a constant trickle of delays was the discovery of artifacts during park excavation. The arch and its surrounding grounds were built on an area where a wharf and warehouses once stood. The team estimated it might find 8,000 artifacts that would need to be catalogued, but instead found 14,000 items. Any discovery required a temporary shutdown of work to wait for archaeologists to arrive and analyze each artifact.
To limit the impact on the schedule, the team arranged to have an archaeology team on call 24/7. Having someone immediately available reduced the duration of work delays. In fact, the team found so many artifacts that it established an exhibit in the museum showcasing some of the most interesting pieces—including arrowheads, tobacco pipes and rare bottles. “It was one of those things where we could take what was a risk—and potentially a cost and schedule impact—and make it a win,” says Mr. Boring.
Key government sponsors heralded such innovative outcomes last year after the project was completed in June—on budget. The new Gateway Arch National Park opened in July.
“This is one of the most identifiable places in America,” says Claire McCaskill, a former U.S. senator from Missouri who led government efforts to support the project. The project “helps ensure it can be enjoyed and protected for future generations.” PM
A snapshot of the major construction components and upgrades for the Gateway Arch National Park project
1 Tram Entrance
The waiting area for the arch's tram (which shuttles visitors to the top of the arch) now has a video wall showcasing the arch's original construction and an exhibit that livestreams views from the monument's top.
2 Arch Museum and Visitor Center
The team added 46,000 square feet (14,020 square meters) to the museum to accommodate six new galleries and a striking glass entrance.
The team elevated the riverfront to prevent flooding and added a 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) promenade that includes paths for pedestrian and bike traffic.
4 North Gateway
Demolishing a parking garage that blocked views on the park's northern end cleared the way for an amphitheater and children's play areas.
5 The Old Courthouse
Renovation of the city's historic courthouse in the shadow of the arch is still in progress. The project, expected to be completed in 2020, will refurbish existing exhibits and make the building more accessible to people with disabilities.
6 Kiener Plaza
The downtown plaza added new amenities, such as an expansive lawn, café seating and multiple children's play areas to give visitors a better view of the arch.
7 Pedestrian Bridge
The team built a pedestrian bridge over a major interstate highway that had separated the arch grounds and the city's main plaza.
PMI research shows project teams that draw from an array of perspectives and skillsets deliver powerful outcomes.