Eric Moraczewski was sitting in an Executive MBA classroom at Olin’s Knight Center on a spring evening almost exactly two years ago when he felt the phone vibrate in his pocket. He excused himself and answered the call from a board member at the Gateway Arch Park Foundation.
“It was a quick call,” Moraczewski said. “One of the board members said Maggie let us know she’s leaving. He said, ‘We’d like you to run the foundation.'”
Maggie Hales, then president and executive director of the foundation and Moraczewski’s boss, had resigned. So over lunch at Bobo Noodle House the next day, the board member and Moraczewski worked out the details and just like that, he assumed control over a $380 million project to renovate one of the country’s most beloved icons. After a brief interim period, Moraczewski took on the executive director permanently in October.
Just a few months earlier, he’d been hired as the foundation’s CFO—the result of another fateful phone call at 3 a.m., while Moraczewski was in Asia running his consulting firm, FDI Strategies. Then, a recruiter was on the line letting him know an opportunity was available.
“It was one of those opportunities that you only get once—if you’re lucky, twice—in your life,” Moraczewski said. “The Arch is one of those world symbols.”
EMBA Education Brought Confidence
A few weeks after taking the reins at the Gateway Arch Park Foundation, Moraczewski received his Executive MBA from WashU. The experience supplemented the skills he needed to establish and brand his own consulting firm targeting companies doing business in Asia. And it also gave him the confidence to stand in front of a “who’s who” of civic leaders on the foundation’s board and provide mission-focused updates.
“There are some intimidating people in that room if they wanted to be. They’re not. They’re great people,” he said.
The class connections are also invaluable. He’s recruited one of his classmates for the foundation’s young friends board and another—Eric Maddox, a former Army interrogator whose work led to Saddam Hussein’s capture—will be a featured speaker at the Arch’s Veterans Day event.
Moraczewski speaks highly of Sam Chun, Olin assistant dean and director of executive education, for the way he could “see how an idea grows into a business, how quickly he’d progress through that.” Frans VanOudenallen, director of career development, helped inspire Moraczewski to a wholesale overhaul of personal branding for his consulting business.
“I never really tried in undergrad or in high school. It came fairly easy to me. I didn’t get as much out of it as a I should have,” he said. “This was the first time I chose education as opposed to just going through the steps. It had a different meaning.”
A Time of Transition for the Arch
Since Moraczeski took over the foundation’s leadership, the milestones have come fast and furious for the project he manages with five other major stakeholders: the city of St. Louis, Great Rivers Greenway, the National Park Service, Bi-State Development, and the Jefferson National Parks Association.
Each has a piece of the project. One manages the park trails. Another manages the museum gift shop. One operates the tram to the top of the monument. The park service manages the grounds.
But it’s the Gateway Arch Park Foundation that raised the lion’s share of the funding—$221 million—to accomplish the massive overhaul of the park grounds, renovate the museum, and construct a park walkway over Interstate 44. That piece of the project opened on March 26.
“We oversee the design and construction of the project,” Moraczewski said. “But we’re transitioning into a conservancy role. A big reason I was brought in was to develop that strategy. We want to make sure it doesn’t fall into wreck and ruin after we’ve just spent $380 million renovating it.”
A year ago, Moraczewski shepherded the foundation—previously known as CityArchRiver Foundation—through a rebranding to better highlight its connection to the Gateway Arch. He’s launched a membership program at the Arch grounds offering early access to museum exhibits, free parking, free tram rides up the Arch, and other perks.
And he’s making it a priority to give regional residents more reasons to come to the newly revitalized venue. Most residents historically visit every six to 10 years. That has to change, Moraczewski said.
“They paid for this; they should use it,” he said. “What we’ve found is that if you grew up here, this is where you had your first date. It’s where you grew up. But if you’re under 40, you don’t have that experience.”
Launching the Blues at the Arch concert series in 2016 was one initiative designed to draw local residents—and it worked. In that first year, 4,000 attended. A year later, attendance mushroomed to 18,000.
Meanwhile, Moraczewski never tires of hearing stories from visitors about the first time they visited the 52-year-old landmark. As the renovation winds to its close and his team prepares for the July 3 grand opening for the fully completed project, he’s doing interviews with The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, national television networks, and other media outlets around the globe.
“It weighs on me more now than at any other time. Earlier, it was all about the excitement of the construction. Now that we’re prepared to open, we’d better not let down the community,” he said. “I have no doubt that we will not.”