Saturday, October 21, 2006

THE CITY DESK - Rory Riddler, Councilman Ward 1

Fifth Street Opening Was One
Of Those Picture Perfect Days

It is a well-kept secret that Missouri does experience the occasional day when the weather is just right. Neither too hot, too cold, too windy or too wet, too humid or too hazy and with just enough clouds in the sky to make it interesting. When a few such days occur this time of year, people still call it Indian summer. I’m not sure why this deference to Native Americans, but so far no one has complained.

We aren’t allowed too many of these perfect days or else we would have nothing in common to talk about. It makes you pity the poor people forced to live in the Sun Belt. I’ve often thought that one of the most boring jobs in the world is to be a weatherman in Phoenix. That doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate a nice day when it comes along, just that we find it odd.

God graced us with one of those days October 6, 2006, for the dedication of the much-anticipated North Fifth Street extension. To mark the occasion, the Public Works Department had arranged a dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting held on the new overpass across 370.

Special guests for the day were Mel Wetter, his wife Bea and their extended family. The extension is designated the Mel Wetter Parkway in honor of the former Mayor. On hand to provide martial music befitting the ceremony was the Orchard Farm High School Band. Yellow and blue balloons, festooned on the decorative light poles across the overpass, bobbed in the breeze. Whether on cue, or as luck would have it, there was even a fly-by of military jets. A large crowd of neighbors, city employees and those who worked on the project were on hand to be a part of a historic moment.

Mayor York, Mel Wetter and I were asked to make some remarks and I wanted to share with you those I made:

“For more than a decade we have envisioned this connection, a way for our citizens, North and South, to commute with greater ease and efficiency. Today is a proud day for all of us, but I am particularly proud to have been here at the beginning and to have helped see this grand plan through to such an auspicious conclusion.”

“I think we can all truly agree that this is the finest road connection in our community, if not all of St. Charles County. Once known only to the railroad workers and young people who played in these woods, now some of the scenic beauty of our little hills is here for all to enjoy. That natural beauty will need to be protected through time, and whatever developments may come to adjoining property should take the preservation of these wonderful trees and woods into account.”

“I want to take just a moment to thank Kuhlman Design Group for their thoughtful approach to this project. Thanks too and a job well done to our own public Works staff headed by Mahesh Sharma and Debbie Aylsworth as well as Allan Williams who was here near the start and came back for the completion of this grand project. Thank you to the men and women who helped build this overpass and road connection ahead of schedule.”

“Thanks also to the patience of the residents of the First Ward, especially to the residents of St. Charles Heights, who put up with the normal disruption that comes from such a major construction project.”

“Heartfelt congratulations also to former Mayor Mel Wetter, for whom we have named this beautiful Parkway. A man whose family was an important part of Frenchtown and who has exemplified the words community service.”

“The Southern end of this connection, near where the Wabash Station once overlooked St. Charles and the Missouri River, will soon see a rebirth as voters hopefully approve the bonds this November 7th for a St. Charles Community Center. So too a new Boy’s and Girl’s Club will soon bring prominence to the Fifth and Olive intersection.”

“Blanchette Park,
the crown jewel and oldest park in St. Charles, will see a rebirth as citizens North of 370 will now find it close and inviting. New life will come to Bum’s Hollow, which I hope, never looses its original name. Plans for a permanent stage will return live entertainment to this natural amphitheater. And this wonderful and wide hiking and biking path will soon connect through Frenchtown to the Katy Trail and someday to New Town, to add a wonderful recreational element and pedestrian access to this scenic area.”

“Finally, the attractive bridge across 370 has already brought a new sense of pride and arrival to the North End of St. Charles. We are becoming the kind of place we all knew this could be…and, with the continued help of Providence, our future is just beginning. Thank you.”

Following our remarks and a formal ribbon cutting, dignitaries climbed aboard the St. Charles Trolley for an inaugural ride along the parkway. As we approached Bum’s Hollow a deer stepped out of the trees as we rode slowly past. Kids rode by on bicycles. People were out walking their dogs. It was a picture perfect day.

For this special occasion, my wife Sue was there and our daughter Kathleen was able to get some time away from St. Charles High. We remembered taking her and her brother (now at college) to the dedication of the Hawk’s Nest overpass when they were younger. And I carried my son Justin on my shoulders so he could see the opening of the 370 Bridge years before that.

Someone offered to take our picture with Mel Wetter. It’s a great photo, but I couldn’t help thinking it didn’t tell the whole story. Not even the cable television coverage could capture the whole story. Time stood still that day for a few hours. You could feel it in the air and see it in the clouds. It was a picture perfect day.