Construction of the Mississippi River Overlook on the shoreline in East St. Louis, Ill. "is a once in a lifetime experience," says Harvey Wolf, vice president of L. Wolf Co., Granite City, Ill. "This is an exciting project."
Wolf and other members of the general contracting company are thrilled to participate in the $4.2-million project at Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park. Situated directly across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, the 43-foot, 6-inch-tall viewing platform will soon provide spectacular views of the Gateway Arch and downtown St. Louis skyline. In addition, the Mississippi River Overlook will provide a magnificent vantage point for eyeing Gateway Geyser, the world's tallest fountain that shoots water to a height of approximately 630 feet.
Scheduled for completion in late summer, Mississippi River Overlook will be a handicap accessible, poured-in-place concrete structure made up of five, tiered observation deck areas, at 8-foot intervals. The structure will be 195 feet, 6 inches long by 24 feet wide, and will be highlighted by an illuminated stainless steel railing system and both illuminated and non-illuminated bollard standards.
The Mississippi River Overlook project is very labor intensive, requiring extensive formwork on each level and the placement of approximately 1,000 cubic yards of concrete, according to Wolf. "The two major components on this project are the architectural concrete and the stainless steel handrail," he says. "They are both very challenging."
The Overlook is supported by four piers. "Each of the pile caps has 16 piles driven about 65 to 70 feet into the ground," says Alan Rode, superintendent for L. Wolf Co. "So, there are a total of 64 piles, which were installed last fall."
The project also includes road improvements. The curved roadway at Front Street and Trendley Avenue will be widened to create a visitor drop-off point capable of accommodating passenger vehicles and school buses on Trendley Avenue. A visitor congregation area equipped with seating, site lighting and more is also planned.
Key members of the project team includes Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum Inc. (HOK), St. Louis, architect; EDM Inc., St. Louis; electrical and structural engineer; and Juneau Associates Inc., Edwardsville, Ill. — civil engineer.
Other project participants include Clark Trucking; Guarantee Electrical; Keeley & Sons — structural concrete work; Mason's Landscaping; Nebco Steel Erectors; and Slater Construction — flatwork. Illini Concrete Inc. is the concrete supplier and Ambassador Steel is supplying rebar.
The vision for the creation of Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park on the East St. Louis riverfront originates with Eero Saarinen, architect for the Gateway Arch, who always believed that the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial should be extended to grace both shores of the Mississippi River. Saarinen died before his dream was realized, but his vision was shared by a St. Louis businessman and philanthropist with a personal mission of turning Saarinen's dream to reality.
Malcolm Martin felt an extension of the Jefferson Expansion Memorial into East St. Louis could help revive the city and serve as a cornerstone for development, much as the Arch had done in downtown St. Louis. In 1968, Martin formed a non-profit group called Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis which worked to raise funds to help protect the tract of land along the Illinois riverfront across from the Arch from commercial development.
By 1984, Martin's work helped to persuade Congress to pass legislation to establish a commission to develop a plan that would compliment the Gateway Arch. Martin envisioned a landscaped area with a giant fountain or other spectacular centerpiece. To put Martin's vision into motion, members of Gateway Center raised $4 million in private donations to build what has now come to be known as Gateway Geyser. The geyser was completed in 1995. Three 800-horsepower pumps power the fountain, discharging 8,000 gallons of water per minute at a speed of 250 feet per second.
Upon his death in 2004, Martin donated over $5 million to Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis. One year later, Gateway Center transferred title to Gateway Geyser and 34.1 acres of riverfront grounds to the Metro East Park & Recreation District (MEPRD) to create Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park.
"With Mississippi River Overlook and Gateway Geyser, we will have two unique projects on one site," says MEPRD Executive Director Mike Buehlhorn. "There is nothing like these two projects anywhere in the country."
On Sept. 16, 2006, ground was broken for the Mississippi River Overlook project. The project is quickly taking shape. "Malcolm Martin would have been delighted not only to see how well designed this platform is, but just how carefully chosen the contractors were and just how carefully they are proceeding with each stage," says Marshall Hier, president of Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis. "As a layman in terms of construction, it is a revelation just how intricate and complicated this project is."
Hier sums up the regional significance of the landmark project: "When this platform is finished, to the west, the visitor will have an unobstructed view of Saarinen's magnificent Arch and the St. Louis skyline; to the east, a view of the world-class jet geyser and four smaller fountains. To the north and south, the visitor will see a broad stretch of the mighty river that is shared by our two states."
Buehlhorn adds, "The Mississippi Overlook is definitely going to be an attraction for not only East St. Louis but for the region, too. It is going to be incredible when it is done."
Mississippi River Overlook is the first phase of a comprehensive development plan for an accessible public park for the citizens of East St. Louis and the region. The site ultimately will feature an amphitheater and stage, a cultural interpretive area, a natural interpretative area, and connections to the Eads Bridge, recreation trails, MetroLink and Casino Queen. When complete, the park is expected to attract 300,000 to 400,000 visitors per year.
The Metro East Park & Recreation District was formed by voters in November 2000, and is responsible for the development of parks, greenways and trials in Madison County and St. Clair County, Ill. MEPRD supplements the efforts of local governments, special districts and other jurisdictions already engaged in the management of parks and recreation facilities. The park district is the first of its kind in Illinois, serving over half a million residents in an area larger in size that the state of Rhode Island.