New Arch superintendent tackles questions about its role in downtown | St. Louis Public Radio

New Arch superintendent tackles questions about its role in downtown

May 16, 2008

As the new superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Tom Bradley had to hit the Arch grounds running -- learning the daily operations while tackling the question of whether and how to include the park in downtown St. Louis revitalization efforts.

On May 8, after just a week on the job, Bradley announced that the National Park Service will begin a public discussion on ways to reinvigorate the grounds of the 43-year-old Arch, as encouraged by the Danforth Foundation.

"Every week I learn more. I'm trying to read the administrative histories about some of the things that have been tried before,'' Bradley said. "And I meet more people who tell me different things, so it's a learning experience.''

Bradley, 61, is thoughtful and well-spoken, with a good sense of humor. He joined the National Park Service in 1972 and has served in such far-flung places as Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and as assistant superintendent of New York's Statue of Liberty, where he broke into the movies -- sort of. His most recent posting was as superintendent at Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, headquartered in St. Croix Falls, Wis.

Tom Bradley
Credit File photo

Bradley grew up in Chicago and earned a degree in economics at the University of Wyoming. He served in Vietnam with the Fifth Special Forces Group Airborne.

Bradley said he is still settling into St. Louis. He is buying a home in the Tower Grove neighborhood and commuting to visit his wife Betsy who works with the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. They have two grown children.

Bradley has yet to sample a toasted ravioli -- or discover the Cardinals.

"I have all that to look forward to,'' he said.

We caught up with Bradley Friday morning, for a brief telephone interview:

Q. Just days after starting your new job here, you announced that the Park Service will begin seeking public input about development proposals involving the Arch grounds. Has this been in the works for a while?

A. It's been in the works since before I got here. I'd say we started talking about it in maybe February.

We met again yesterday in a pretty wide-ranging discussion. It's called scoping, but it's really brainstorming. It's looking at all kinds of ideas and concerns and after 40 years, what can we do better? What are some of the impediments to having a better visitor experience?

It's a pretty free-ranging discussion and then out of that, in the weeks to come, you look at the constraints we operate under -- legal, regulatory or policy -- and then you look at funding. But the idea is just to take a fresh look at the way we're doing business and see how we can improve.

Q. What is your take on the Danforth proposal, which calls for another major cultural attraction and connecting the Arch grounds to downtown, among other things?

A. I'm sympathetic to some of the issues that are raised, not just by Danforth but by others, about making this a more visitor-friendly and resident-friendly setting. I guess I find I don't at this stage agree with some of the specific alternatives, but I certainly think there's enough overlap and interest here that we can figure out some way to improve the park.

I think some of [the concepts] on further examination won't be the way that either we would go legally or the best management practices. People will say, "This just doesn't work." Or, people think that it's great to do X, Y or Z, but history has shown that these don't make money or they require a huge amount of subsidy. And after the novelty, they don't draw people. But there are things that do work.

Again, I've lived all over the country, and I'd like to start at the very basics and see what we can do better. And I certainly want to work with the local foundations to do this.

Q. In announcing your appointment as superintendent, regional director Ernest Quintana said that your "proven ability to engage partners and communities will be instrumental in dealing with a variety of visitor service and resource management issues." In light of calls by city leaders to involve the Arch grounds in riverfront development, do you think your previous experience with communities influenced your selection for this job?

A. Oh, I think so -- but the job was open, and they had to get somebody. [Bradley laughs.] There's no big plan here. But I know that my boss Ernie Quintana was interested in people who had worked with communities and partnerships. And that's kind of the nature of the Park Service today. It's just so important.

In my previous assignment, we had a huge issue with an interstate bridge project in Stillwater, Minn. It took a long process with 28 stakeholders to figure that one out.

So, it's just the way we do business these days, I think.

Q. When you were assistant superintendent at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, you worked on a program to lease park land to private farmers. How might that kind of thinking enter into your work here?

A. I love that program. But, well, we have to be careful because there are a lot of parks and, really, each one has a special set of circumstances.

And that one had acquired quite a bit of land that had previously been farmed. And normally what would happen is we would let the land revert to succession and it would grow into woods. But then you also look at our responsibility to maintain the cultural landscape and the local history and the traditions.

So, the effort there was -- through long-term leasing -- to put some of this land back into farming, with today's sustainable goals and best management practices in reducing erosion and other issues. But it was all family-run farms, and so the park would be peopled with farmers, and it would carry on the tradition there. It was pretty novel for the Park Service.

California has done something with farms, so it's not totally unique. But it was a pretty good project. It caused some controversy with folks who are more concerned with natural resources than cultural resources. That's a dynamic that's in most parks. You balance those.

Q. Isn't that the type of public-private partnership we are talking about in St. Louis?

A. Right. Yes. It always comes down to that.

Q. What do you think of that 630-foot Gateway Arch?

A. I was walking to my car the other day, and it was a really cloudy day, and it was just so photogenic. It's pretty special. It reminds me a lot of working in New York, it reminds me of the Statue.

Q. Has the attendance at the Arch dropped in recent years?

A. I've read that it's dropped. But again, this is not unusual. A lot of parks have dropped -- they go up and down. I don't know how much you can read into this. If we looked at all the 390 park units, we might see some similar ups and downs.

Q. Here's an off-the-wall question: Is it true that you have a film credit in the movie "Ghostbusters?"

A. How did you figure that one out? It's pretty obscure. It was "Ghostbusters II,'' actually. Well, they filmed while I was [stationed at the Statue of Liberty]. Anytime you do anything at the Statue, it takes a lot of involvement just to make it happen because of the boat schedules and the special requirements of working out there. And they just put it in the credits. I did get to meet the cast.

Q. One last question, you grew up in Chicago -- Cubs or White Sox?

A. It was Cubs because it was the North Shore, but we didn't really get into baseball until we lived in New York, and we could take the subway to Yankee Stadium. We enjoyed that. Then we went to Cleveland and enjoyed the Indians. But I've got to admit that once we got to Minnesota, it tailed off some, but that's going to change. I need to get back into baseball.