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New Tower Grove Park director embraces technology, forgoes park residence

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Tower Grove Park
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A new director is getting settled at Tower Grove Park in St. Louis for the first time in 28 years. St. Louis Public Radio’s Joseph Leahy spoke recently with Bill Reininger about his choice not to live at the director’s residence and his ideas for bringing new technology to the historic park.

Reininger succeeds John Karel, who retired from the position last December after 27 years. Karel is credited with restoring the park and its reputation, which had fallen into poor condition before his tenure.

Reininger took over in mid-July. He spent the past 10 years as Park Operations Manager for Forest Park Forever, which oversees the city’s largest park.  His prior park experience also includes working for the City of Crestwood and University City. He began his career as an outdoor horticulturist at the Missouri Botanical Garden. The St. Louis native graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with bachelor’s degrees in Urban Forestry and Horticulture.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

St. Louis park trifecta

REININGER: I’m the sixth [director] in 147 years. So, I feel very honored and, as a native St. Louisan, I feel like I’ve hit the trifecta: early on in my career I’ve had the pleasure of working at the Missouri Botanical Garden and learned a lot about Henry Shaw and his legacy. Then, I went to Forest Park as well – a huge community park, 12 million visitors a year –  and then to have the opportunity to come back to Tower Grove [Park], the second largest park in the city of St. Louis – very few people ever get the opportunity to work at one of those institutions much less all three.

Upkeep challenges

LEAHY: What are some of the challenges in overseeing a large historic park in general and what are some of the challenges you see specific to Tower Grove Park?

REININGER: With any large park, the most challenging thing is to try to make sure it doesn’t get loved to death. You get over two million visitors to Tower Grover Park every year. What really gives the park it’s character – with those Victorian settings of the gates with the wrought iron to them and the brick and the stone, and the pavilions with so much ornate character to them – is what really causes a lot of that challenge for maintenance, because it definitely costs a lot more money to do that type of maintenance.

New technology

LEAHY: Where do you see the park’s biggest area for improvement or growth is?

REININGER: I think it’s really starting to embrace the technology that’s out there. That’s really where some of our biggest areas for growth is: to put some time into revamping our website. It could be a little more interactive than what it is. And then, create and app for the park so you could open it up and click on any of the pavilions and it could tell you about the pavilion … tell you how long the different trails are. On the trees, we’re wanting to do a new inventory that would do a GPS location on all the trees in the park. There’s 7,500 trees, several hundred difference species of trees, so it’s a great educational tool. To be able map those and be able to walk up to any tree in the park, stand next to it and it would GPS locate you and then pull up what that tree is, when it was planted, what type it is…”

New uses for director’s residence 

LEAHY:  One thing that’s unique about the park is that the director is traditionally given residence at the park in a big, beautiful Victorian house. Are you planning to move in there with your family?

REININGER: At the moment, we’re not looking into it. I’ve got a family of four so we’ve got two kids, but we also have two 75-pound dogs. The way the house is laid out right now – it is a three-bedroom house but you have to walk through one bedroom to get to another one so it’s really not quite laid out for a family at this point. And, I think I really want to explore the possibility for revenue generation out of that and also to tie people emotionally to the park. A neat concept we’re exploring would be to take the house and rent it out for the wedding party: So, if you’re getting married at the Palm House on Saturday, you come in with your mom and maybe a bridesmaid and you stay at the house on Friday night. You wake up on Saturday, maybe have catered breakfast, you can leisurely get ready for the wedding, you can have your wedding pictures in your dress taken in the Victorian parlor or outside in the garden. And then, when it’s time for your wedding, you’re just walking across a short distance in the park and come in. So, that not only is a great service, because it’s something that people will truly enjoy and utilize. It ties them closer to the park and gives them a better experience. It’s also a revenue maker for the park.

Big shoes to fill

LEAHY: Your predecessor, John Karel, directed the park for nearly three decades, which this day and age seems like a really long time for any single job. Does it feel like there are some big shoes to fill?

REININGER: I mean, always. To look at what John did over the last 27 years is just incredible and had it not been for his efforts we would not be able to continue moving forward and look at new opportunities. Everything we do is built upon the groundwork that he laid. So, yeah: there’s pressure.

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