CEOs in St. Louis banded together to help revitalize one of America’s most iconic landmarks: the towering Gateway Arch on the Mississippi River. And in the successful remaking of the Gateway Arch National Park, there are lessons for other business leaders as they back major community projects where they work and live.
A unique public-private partnership has transformed the Gateway Arch, the grounds of the newly named Gateway Arch National Park, and its connection to downtown St.Louis. CityArchRiver raised $250 million in private funds to add to federal dollars and renovate the half-century-old Arch and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a 62-acre national historic site that had fallen into disrepair.
David Peacock, president and chief operating officer of Schnuck’s Markets in St. Louis, was one of the drivers of what’s been called the nation’s biggest public-private partnership for a landmark since the creation of the Statue of Liberty in the 19th Century.
“We’re blessed to have this icon in our city that defines us globally,” Peacock told Chief Executive. “People were taking it for granted. Not much investment had occurred there. With the revitalization of the grounds, it kind of reconnected everyone with the importance of the Arch as the gateway to our city.”
For example, CityArchRiver and the group of CEOs, under the guidance of the Civic Progress organization, wanted to do a much better job of connecting the Arch area to St. Louis proper. Interstate 55/70 was always in the way. So the partnership “put a lid” over the highway, as Peacock puts it. The project group also invested in the riverfront infrastructure to make it more inviting and capable for hosting festivals, fairs and other events that would bring more people to an easier-to-reach park.
Peacock says that he and the other local CEOs got involved in the push because “we saw it as an opportunity to give back” to a city where many were born and raised. “We’re proud of our hometown and want our kids to be proud too,” says the former president of the Anheuser-Busch unit of AB InBev and Anheuser-Busch executive. “We want our region to thrive and grow. This was another big move in that direction.”
Vern Remiger, a prominent architect and urban-planning expert who was project manager for CityArchRiver, credited CEO involvement for “staying after this” over the years. “And the pressure that Civic Progress put on local political leaders kept this going forward. They did it collectively.”
In the process, Peacock learned at least five things that might be helpful to other CEOs reckoning with civic revitalization:
Recognize your responsibility: As the leader of a local company, Peacock says, CEOs must “recognize that there’s a responsibility to enhance the community you’re working in. It’s also good business, in a sense. It can help retain a good workforce, and there are other benefits to a company.”
Assume you’ll partner: Typically with projects of magnitude, there will be possibilities for partnership with local, state, and even federal governments; NGOs; and other constituencies. “This partnering is very important,” Peacock says. “You can’t do things in a vacuum.”
Harness the universities: Increasingly in an age oriented toward technology and the importance of human capital, Peacock believes, capable and involved colleges and universities are crucial to bring into important civic efforts. This is true in St. Louis, with Washington and St. Louis universities, and in places such as Pittsburgh, where schools such as the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University have played key roles in community renewal.
“Great cities are built more and more around great universities, which can be powerful contributors to bringing things back,” Peacock says. “Like Washington University, many of these schools have great engineering schools as well, which can help.”
Persevere: Local leaders had been talking for decades about the need to do something about the Arch and the park, to upgrade them and integrate them more into the life and commerce of the city. “This project,” Peacock says, “really was initially considered in the early 2000s. So it can take a while. You need patience, even through a turnover in CEOs and other leaders. It was consistency and mission and purpose that kept this project going.”
Pick your spots: When CEOs work with the public sector, “part of making it successful is defining issues and opportunities” for the private sector, Peacock says. “What can companies do best to make a difference? Some areas, companies can have less impact, such as reducing crime. But projects like [CityArchRiver] are where the private sector can do a lot.”