Downtown Gate

Up until now, an urge to critique the new Downtown gate design is squelched with a whisper from the 19th century: “Remember the Eiffel Tower.”

You know about the Eiffel Tower. The symbol of Paris, built for the 1889 World’s Fair, is memorialized in countless little statuettes that tourists bring home.

It wasn’t always that way. Now universally accepted as charming and romantic, the tower was viewed as a colossus of twisted iron that dominated the Paris skyline. Some likened it to a giant smokestack, while Guy de Maupassant became one of the most vocal critics even while he preferred to eat breakfast inside the tower’s restaurant.

Why? “Inside the restaurant was one of the few places where I could sit and not actually see the tower,” he said.

Someday, tourists may take home miniatures of St. Joseph’s Downtown gates. We’d hate to be on the wrong side of that one, like those snippy French intellectuals in the 19th century. So we wait for the final vision to take shape, but we admit that it’s hard. Look at them! Unlike de Maupassant, we can’t eat eggs inside of one of these things.

Some local critics call them monoliths, but we think the slender black pillars resemble stereo speakers, and not the tidy, minimalist ones that connect to a mobile phone.

We’re talking about the kind of massive speaker system that lured your cousin into blowing a whole month’s salary in the 1980s, just so he could crank up the latest Iron Maiden album. Who let that guy design our streetscape?

It is true that the masonry base is an improvement. Other finishing touches, like a welcome arch that brings back memories of Downtown’s glory days, could make critics eat crow. We hope so.

For now, it might be best to turn the focus from aesthetics to utility. Recall that Gustave Eiffel only had approval to keep his tower standing for 20 years. After that, all bets were off.

Historians believe what ultimately saved the Eiffel Tower wasn’t a reappraisal of its artistic value but its practical use in the emerging technology of radio. It seems the French military found immense value in sending and receiving wireless messages from antennae placed on the 989-foot tower’s summit.

Perhaps a similar useful purpose can be found to enhance the value of the Downtown gates, until more people warm to the design. A 5G wireless signal might be as valuable today as radio technology in the early 20th century. Why not use these gates to provide Wi-Fi service for Downtown residents and businesses?

As far as aesthetics go, protruding antennae here and there could give the towers a futuristic look that makes Bartle Hall so endearing in Kansas City.

City leaders always say they want people to move Downtown. What better way to make that happen than next-generation Wi-Fi?