The company that owns St. Louis' Union Station will begin work Feb. 1 on a major makeover of the historic railroad hub.
Lodging Hospitality Management (LHM) wants to lure more visitors with additions, including a 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel with 42 enclosed cars as well as several train-themed features. Outdoor green space will offer food stands inside old railroad cars, and additional Union Station Hotel rooms with locomotive décor will be available inside.
LHM’s Bob O’Loughlin said the renovations will complement existing downtown attractions.
“We’ve got The Arch grounds, we’ve got the Cardinals; we’ve got City Museum. We’ve got IKEA, the zoo, the planetarium, and people are coming already for those venues,” O’Loughlin said.
Can they bring back the bustle?
Union Station, which opened in 1894, was once hailed as the world’s largest and busiest railroad hub. It closed in 1978 and reopened seven years later as a destination for locals and tourists.
People came to ride the paddle boats and hear the fudge makers sing. But it was mostly known as a shopping mall, with dozens of stores where customers could buy everything from Cardinals gear to leather handbags.
At the height of Union Station’s popularity, 2.5 million people came through every year. But in the last few years, traffic dwindled to between 600,000 and 500,000 visitors annually.
“Retail has never really done well downtown,” O’Loughlin said.
This latest makeover follows the 2014 transformation of the facility’s Grand Hall into a bar with a light-and-sound show. In this next phase, the high-tech theme will continue in the outdoor areas with an illuminated archway, a fire show in the facility’s lake, and 3-D animation on the side of the hotel.
LHM will announce another feature this spring. O’Loughlin would only say that it will be a “family attraction” that will take up 75,000 square feet inside the building.
One thing that won’t change is the paid parking, according to O’Loughlin. He said parking will still cost $10, but patrons may complain less because they won’t be paying to shop but to enjoy an experience.
“You pay to park at the zoo, you pay to park at the football games, baseball games," he said. "You pay to park to go to The Arch, so I think it’s pretty standard when you’re going to attractions.”
The work should be completed by summer 2017.
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL