Q&A with Eric Moraczewski, executive director, CityArchRiver Foundation
IBJ: You came aboard early in 2016, right?
Moraczewski: I started in February
IBJ: What was your background coming in?
Moraczewski: For a number of years I ran one of the largest museum design companies in the world, out of Washington, D.C., Gallagher & Associates. Regionally, they’ve done some projects like the Blues Museum here in town, and they are working on the Soldiers Memorial as well. After working for years around the world with them, that was my big attraction to the (Arch) project.
IBJ: Are you from here?
Moraczewski: My wife’s family is from here. I grew up in Cleveland. My wife and I met at Saint Louis University, and I just finished up my executive MBA at Washington University as well, so we had a number of ties back to this city.
IBJ: It must be pretty awesome, coming in and heading up a project that has world recognition?
Moraczewski: It really is. The last three years, I was working in and out of China primarily. You’d be in a third-tier city, talking to someone who spoke very fractured English and they would talk about the Arch the same way they talk about the pyramids of Egypt or the Eiffel Tower. It’s fun and exciting to say now that I get to be a part of all that.
IBJ: A lot of things are going to be falling together in 2017, including the completion of the Arch project. Where does it stand as of this moment?
Moraczewski: We are opening up the south grounds and the east slope pathways in a couple of weeks. Then, we’ll open up Kiener Plaza in April. Then, the museum will open to the public in late 2017. We’re excited to get this open so the public can come down and see what we’ve been working on all these years.
IBJ: What can people see at this point?
Moraczewski: We opened up Luther Ely Smith Square last November (2015). The week before Thanksgiving, we opened the North Gateway, which connects to Laclede’s Landing and Washington Avenue and is immensely beautiful. The Old Courthouse is open with temporary exhibits in there. We also have the Tucker Theater as well as the gift shop open in the museum under the Arch itself. We have the tram rides (inside the Arch legs) down for a couple of months so they can refinish the motor generators that are in there. Those will be back on line in early March for everyone who wants to go back to the top of the Arch again.
IBJ: So is completion of the museum the final hook in this thing?
Moraczewski: We’re going to do a little bit of work in the Old Courthouse, but we wanted to leave that open to the public while the museum was closed. We’ll start that work right after we finish up the museum. But the museum is the big jumping off point for the public.
IBJ: Do you have a date in mind for a big celebration?
Moraczewski: We don’t have an exact date yet. We hired an exhibit fabricator last week. They are working on schedules for their work right now. As we progress through those schedules with them we’ll be able to set a date in stone.
IBJ: What’s the latest overall cost projection? I know that $380 million was a working figure for a long time.
Moraczewski: It should come in a little under budget. We’re pleased with that. I have a finance background and any time you can come in under, it’s something to smile about.
IBJ: A lot of that is public funding?
Moraczewski: About $221 million is private funding. We have about $85 million that are the Proposition P funds, a sales tax on St. Louis city and county. And there are several funds that come from state, city and federal funding that helped on this project as well. In total, about 58 percent comes from private funds.
IBJ: There’s an ongoing effort to raise money, isn’t there?
Moraczewski: Our agreement with the Park Service and the city and state is that we will cover the increased cost to the grounds. We will always have an interest in making sure these grounds are kept at the highest level possible. In addition, we are really working to make sure we are putting together a visitor experience that brings people down here again and again. You might have seen information about the Winter Fest we are putting on this year (through Jan. 8). The ice rink right in front of the Arch is the primary focus. That will be out there for about two weeks. We’ll continue to put on events like that, like the Blues at the Arch that we did in August. That will be returning this year, a great partnership with the National Blues Museum. We’ll continue to look to add and complement events.
IBJ: I read someplace where the project was going to be bringing in about 4,400 permanent jobs. What kind of jobs are we talking about?
Moraczewski: That number includes physical jobs on the grounds. We have a restaurant going into the museum. We have the gift shop. But it primarily expands into the community and talks about the new hotels that are going in. There are five new hotels going in to downtown St. Louis. We see a growth in visitors to this community and that has expanded job creation.
IBJ: I know they’ve removed the major parking garage down there. Is there going to be enough parking space?
Moraczewski: Yes. We’re really excited to offer a membership program starting (in 2017). One of the things we’ve focused on in that program is parking. That will help let people know where parking is so they know the closest place to park to get to the Arch and the other pieces of the project. When that garage came down, we did a study that showed — on any given day, including Cardinals gamedays — 2,600 open parking spots. There is lots of parking down here and it’s available at all times for the public to use.
IBJ: There have long been plans to draw in the east side as part of the Arch project. Has there been any movement on that?
Moraczewski: We’ve really tried to focus on getting this construction done right now. We would love to incorporate (architect Eero) Saarinen’s vision of both sides of the river. As we start to get through this work, we’ll start to explore what the opportunities might be. I don’t have a timeframe.
IBJ: A lot of people rate downtowns by the amount of work that goes into their riverfronts. Improvements to draw in visitors. This is going to put St. Louis back on the map in a lot of ways, isn’t it?
Moraczewski: We sure hope so. We have some great partners on this project. Obviously, the National Park Service, the city of St. Louis, the state of Illinois, the state of Missouri. We also have Bi-State Development, which works in both states, and they are working to do a lot of things to start to grow that river attraction, beyond just the Arch. One of them is improving the riverboats. We keep hearing about Viking River cruises coming to this area. We’re looking at what’s bringing people down to the river and what they are looking for. We’ve also started working with the city and the state on vendor ordinances, so that we can have food trucks and other items for sale down on the river that would keep people down here and maximize their time on the river.
IBJ: In the past, the Arch grounds have been used for mega events drawing hundreds of thousands of people. Are those kinds of events going to be a part of the future?
Moraczewski: You’re referring to Fair St. Louis, and obviously, that’s a decision of the Park Service because it’s their grounds. We’ll continue to work with them to make sure everyone’s interests are aligned. The fair has done a great job at Forest Park (since 2013 when it was relocated because of the Arch work).
IBJ: Have you any projections on visitors?
Moraczewski: From 2000 to about 2010 the visitor number dwindled a little bit. It went from about 3.5 million in any given year to about 2.4 million. We want to see this project return it to that 3.5 million.
IBJ: This might be a little bit “chicken or the egg,” but are people going to come see St. Louis because of the Arch, or coming see the Arch because of St. Louis?
Moraczewski: From our perspective, we’re just happy more people are coming. If we’re the reason for it, that’s great, and if not, that’s great as well. There is so much going on, with the renovation of Union Station and Ballpark Village Phase II. With everything, there’s going to be an immense growth of visitors, and we’re excited to be a part of it.