At an open house on the $18-to-$22 million redesign, organizers wanted public feedback on a plan to pretty much start from scratch in the plaza, dismantling the amphitheater that's been there for decades along with the iconic "Runner" fountain. They got surprise feedback from the cousins of Harry Kiener, who said they knew him as "Uncle Harry".
The former Olympian at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis left the city $200,000 for the plaza's creation after he died in 1960, with the fountain and runner statue as its centerpiece, his cousin Nickie Oliver said.
The new plaza would feature a "fountain room" where people could play within walls of water. There would a playground for kids like no other in St. Louis, plus tree-filled groves and perhaps chess tables amid new green space instead of all the concrete and metal that's there now.
Under the new plan, the "Runner" statue would move to a new spot on the plaza but that fountain – dyed different colors for special occasions--would be gone.
Harry Kiener's relatives are essentially saying this: the city took the money, there is no expiration date on somebody's will, so the fountain and statue should stay right where they are.
"You go to Europe … those statues have been there forever, they don't just pick them up and 'we're going to move it' and completely change something," Oliver said.
People are drawn to the fountain because of its placement on a perceived axis with Old Courthouse and Gateway Arch.
"Most of us respond 'wow, there's a place for me in this axis' which just speaks volumes about history and what's been important in our world," said Rick Rosen, who is not a Kiener relative but has led walking tours downtown. "What I also have seen here in St. Louis when I lead the walking tours is tourists by the many finding that location; not necessarily looking for it but coming across it, where you're right on axis and instantly stopping and taking out their camera."
Kiener's relatives may consider legal action to stop the redesign, as proposed.
"I guess if I had to," Oliver said.
The City Arch River and Great Rivers Greenway organizations are proposing the redesign. Their executing directors now seeking a meeting with Kiener's relatives.
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