Anyone that’s lived in the St. Louis area knows you visit the Gateway Arch as part of a field trip at some point in grade school, and it’s rare that you ever go back.  Maybe you bring someone from out of town, or stop by for a quick selfie-pic before a Cardinals game.  But, for the most part – visiting the Arch has always pretty much been a one-and-done experience.

Starting July 3, visiting Gateway Arch National Park will officially be a first class experience – for visitors and locals alike.  And chances are you’re going to want to go back.

On a sneak peek tour of the new museum and visitors center, our journey begins with an incredible view of the Arch grounds stretching back to the historic Old Courthouse downtown.   The new entrance, with its massive amount of natural light will be a welcome addition to anyone that’s stood in line, in the summer heat (or winter cold) to ride a tram to the top of the Arch.   Updates instantly notable include an easier to navigate security checkpoint, and a large circular desk for park service and local tourism employees to help answer questions about the area.

The large gathering space is also a huge difference from the current cramped atmosphere that often has folks pressed up against one another and confused about which direction to go.

Once you make your way through security, you can enter into the brand new museum that will blow the minds of anyone that experienced the original design that debuted in the 1970’s.   Video screens showing images depicting western expansion greet visitors who will notice a massive painting on the floor showing Saint Louis, the Mississippi River and destinations early explorers were headed to.

According to Samantha Fisher of Gateway Arch Park Foundation – “About 85 percent of the material from the previous museum is still on display.”  In fact, locals may wonder about pieces like the Thomas Jefferson statue – which is still there, just now presented in a beautiful and state of the art fashion.

There are interactive exhibits abound, from an Oregon Trail style game to an interview archive with Native Americans who still call the St. Louis region home.   Designers have spent countless hours creating content for video displays that tell many important stories about how St. Louis played such a huge role in the expansion of America.

The improvements include more inclusive opportunities for visitors in terms of photo opportunities and experiences.  For guests who can’t (or don’t want to) take the tram ride – an exact replica of the very top now exists with video screens giving the same views.   (The original red warning light is even mounted on top.  It was replaced with an LED light several years ago.)

For anyone interested in the actual history of the Gateway Arch, its construction, and design – there’s a separate section that includes the original scale model of the purposed Arch and green space.  A narrator reads aloud the exact words from designer Eero Saarinen about his vision for the monument and property along the river.   Along the wall, you’ll see the displays of finalists who competed for the project.  Home town bias aside – it’s hard to look at the handful of designs and not agree that the Arch was a no-brainer.

Another major improvement that will instantly be noticed is that guests can easily meander around the museum while they wait for their time to go up into the Arch.  The new design is amazingly open with a natural flow that will give guests much more room during their time on the grounds.

Speaking of grounds, while the museum is first class and state of the art, the new park is also a new point of pride for downtown.  It now includes bike paths, new trees, plants, and much more open gathering space.  Gone are the days when visitors had to cross a highway to get to the property.  The improved landscape now stretches past the Old Courthouse into Kiener Plaza and gives downtown St. Louis the fresh, welcoming look it’s desperately needed for the past few decades.

The project was not without delays, with unforeseen issues during construction causing some setbacks.  Anyone who spends time downtown certainly grew tired of seeing fencing all over the place.  The phrase “good things come to those who wait” seems to apply here as St. Louisans especially will be blown away by the new improvements and the 46,000 square foot addition.  The museum will now include state of the art learning space that will be staffed by the National Park Service, as well as event space for private functions.

The economic impact is also huge.  With a price tag of more than $380 million (more than 70 percent came from private donations) it’s a massive investment in St. Louis.   In recent weeks, hiring began for dozens of new jobs related to the museum, park and other new services coming online including a cafe.  Economic experts estimate the new renovations will help bring in an amount equal to an additional Cardinals baseball season – with tourist dollars to hotels, restaurants, and other area attractions.

Now that the project is finally winding down, the Gateway Arch Park Foundation has no plans of closing up shop.  They will continue to promote member events, as well as public festivals, cocktail parties at Keiner Plaza, and even yoga.  Their offices from the 7th floor at One Memorial Drive provide a beautiful view of a long job, well done.

YOU SHOULD KNOW: 

Entrance into the museum is free. It opens to the public on July 3.

The “tram to the top” experience still has a fee.

For more information about visiting the Arch, visit: gatewayarch.com

For information on upcoming events, check out: archpark.org