Landmarks Association of St. Louis

Private Lease Legislation for Jefferson National Expansion Memorial No Longer a Threat

| by Michael R. Allen, Former Assistant Director

November 26, 2008

Possible efforts to place the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial under private control appear to have dissipated after lobbying from Landmarks Association of St. Louis, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Open Space Council and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, among others.  On October 3, Representative William Clay (D-MO) introduced HR 7252, a bill that would have allowed the Secretary of the Interior to lease all or part of the Memorial to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Trust, a non-profit established in June by the Danforth Foundation.  The bill also would have downgraded the status of the Memorial from a National Historic Landmark (NHL) to individual listing on the National Register of Historic Places with only the Gateway Arch retaining NHL status.

The bill's flaws were obvious: the inappropriate and unprecedented lease of an entire national park to a private entity, the removal of NHL status by Congressional fiat and the end-run around the National Park Service's current effort to draft a new General Management Plan for the Memorial based on public input.  The draft management plan is due for release in December or January and will be followed by a 45-day public comment period before an official plan is adopted.  Such opportunity for further public engagement is crucial before decisions are made about the Memorial's future.

Landmarks and its allies were afraid that a senate companion to Clay's bill would be introduced in the current "lame duck" session of Congress and passed with little notice.  Those fears were allayed when Senator Claire McCaskill promised not to introduce a companion and Representative Clay told the press that his bill was dead for now.

On November 18, amid the lobbying effort, Landmarks Association President William Wischmeyer sent the following letter to members of Congress from the St. Louis area:

The Board of Directors of Landmarks Association of St. Louis urges you to commit to holding off pursuit of federal legislation related to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

In January, the National Park Service will publish its Draft Management Plan.  The release will be followed by a 45-day public comment period.  Later in 2009, the Park Service plans to convene an international design competition to select a design for improving the Memorial.  Both of these processes will create time for examination of design ideas and allow for the input of design professionals and the general public.

We laud both the Danforth Foundation and the National Park Service for sparking the public debate and for committing to overcoming the widely-acknowledged urban design challenges that the Memorial faces.  However, we do not feel that federal legislation related to the Memorial is appropriate until the draft management plan process and international design competition are complete. 

HR 7252 is premature in its call for a very specific management plan and development program.  The public comment period and design competition will generate many other ideas that should be given full consideration of all stakeholders.  We ask you to support the implementation of the planned public processes for changes to the Memorial.

Landmarks will continue to participate in the planning process, advancing the principles articulated by a resolution that its Board adopted last year calling for open and transparent planning that examined connections between the Memorial and surrounding city.  On November 24, the Danforth Foundation announced that it would have difficulty continuing to pledge $50 million for the construction of a new museum on the Memorial grounds.  Since the museum plan was driving the legislation that Clay introduced, it seems unlikely that legislative efforts will be a threat in early 2009.