$100M Remake of Union Station Moves Ahead, Ferris Wheel Included

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LHM file photo 2

According to the Post-Dispatch, the next redevelopment of St. Louis’s historic Union Station is set to break ground next month. Planned are more hotel rooms and more entertainment, including light shows, a fire show, and a 3D experience.

Past plans for a roller coaster are no more, but the 200-foot Ferris Wheel is still planned, and the historic train shed will see a full restoration. The total project is expected to be near $100M.

Recent investments at Union Station, such as the Grand Hall laser light show and specialty train excursions have proved popular and so the larger redevelopment plan was tweaked to capitalize. Most retail tenants, save a Cardinals shop and The Fudgery, are expected to go, again according to the Post-Dispatch.

The Ferris Wheel will be similar to SkyView Atlanta, which features 42 enclosed gondolas and rises 200 feet above Centennial Park. The Union Station Ferris Wheel is planned to open in 2018. Also planned are shipping containers converted to accommodate food venders and a new pedestrian entrance at Clark Avenue and 18th Street.

US Ferris Wheel

 

From our previous story, $70 Million Amusement Park Project Next Phase for Union Station Redevelopment:

{looking east on Eugenia Street toward the train shed – image by Paul Sableman}

The $50 million phase one included renovation of the historic Grand Hall, which also serves as the lobby for the St. Louis Union Station Hotel. The Grand Hall, with its sweeping archway, fresco and gold leaf detailing, mosaics and art glass windows, stands 65 feet at its tallest point.

{the immaculately renovated Grand Hall is home to a laser light show – image by Paul Sableman}

The second phase will also include historic rehabilitation. LHM intends to renovate the 11.5-acre train depot shed. Noted engineer George H. Pegram designed the enormous single-span train shed. It was not only one of the largest train sheds ever built, but it also covered the greatest number of tracks at the time it was constructed.

Earlier this year, LHM announced an excursion train billed as the Polar Express, based on the popular children’s book, would depart Union Station. The train rides begin November 22. The idea has proved to be popular. Last month, half a dozen additional dates were added to the calendar.

Union Station - St. Louis, MO

Union Station - St. Louis, MO

{imagining how a Ferris wheel at Union Station might appear}

According to the documents, LHM expects the second phase of the development will allow the City to maximize the potential of productive properties in this portion of downtown. LHM claims parking and infrastructure improvements will augment properties close by including the U.S. Post Office, Scottrade Center, and Peabody Opera House.

In October 2012, LHM purchased the nearly vacant property for $20 million. The company also intends to utilize federal historic preservation and Missouri historic tax credits along with Brownfield tax credits on the second phase of the project.

{the train shed has been partially developed into a hotel, restaurants, and retail shops – image by Paul Sableman}

{a small pond with boat rentals and adjacent restaurants fills part of the shed – image by Paul Sableman}

{a view of the shed looking north across the existing parking lot}

Union Station - St. Louis, MO

*top image by Paul Sableman – pasa47 on Flickr

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  • Ed

    Didn’t the original plans have a 24″ gauge railroad running around the outside of the Train Shed? Are those plans still in place?

  • Mike B

    Would be cool if it was 264′ to match the height of the first Ferris Wheel showcased at Chicago and St. Louis World’s Fair.

    • Chicagoan

      The whole Ferris wheel thing has kind of turned into a ____ measuring contest, honestly. Las Vegas’ High Roller is the biggest right now, but you have a bunch of Arab and Asian countries building massive ones and the whole thing is just devolving into a huge game of one-upmanship.

      I think it’d stink to see a oversized Ferris wheel dwarfing the charm of Union Station.

      • Mike B

        I agree! But at the proposed height of 200′ going an extra 64 doesn’t seem too difficult. A little nod to history would be nice.

        • Chicagoan

          Perhaps that’s just too big for the footprint. Chicago is installing a new Ferris wheel at Navy Pier, but it’ll only be 196 feet, due to the small footprint it’ll be located on. Could be something like that.

          Or, maybe the developers just don’t want to spend that much money.

  • Glad to see the train keeps chugging along (pun intended) for the future of Union Station. So now it has or will have:

    1) a well-managed and popular national hotel chain ; 2) a signature redesign of an historic Grand Hall ; 3) a planned “major family attraction” in the interior ; 4) renovated Midway space for private/public events, large and small ; 5) a 200 ft. observation wheel ; summer trapeze school/performances (unless this was just a temporary use) ; 5) renovated trainshed infrastructure ; 6) regularly-scheduled excursion trains ; 7) outside food booths and shops.

    I’d suggest, as always, installing an ice rink during cold-weather months (see picture below), parking a few classic train engines/cars along the western edge, and moving the Hard Rock Cafe inside and using the building for other purposes (ticket purchase, skate rental, etc. An arcade, maybe? Are those still popular?). Oh, and RC boats in the Landry’s koi pond!

    My original thoughts from 02/01/2012, including placing an observation wheel THROUGH the trainshed roof are here: http://wp.me/p2z2S2-14

  • Tim E

    Demand must be there for the rooms. More hotel rooms certainly add consistent revenues and something LHM is in the business for to begin with. I can see where they would rather get out of the retail/mall landlord tenant business for Union Station nor do they want to go head to head on BPV.
    .
    At same time, Looks like they have gone with an attraction in the Ferris Wheel that must be proving itself in other metro markets. I still think an indoor water park under the shed would also work at some point. Maybe not a huge waterpark but can’t help think it would be popular and at the same time can be managed.
    .
    My wishful request, I think it would be cool if metrolink/old freight tunnel used under the Union Station Shed was rebuilt so the metrolink station itself was under the shed.

    • Chicagoan

      I’ve stayed at the Union Station Hotel before, it’s very nice. Part of me wishes it was more upscale, but Doubletree isn’t too bad and they give you a free cookie when you check in, which is great 🙂

      I’ve also stayed at the Hilton “Downtown at the Arch”, which is very nice and was recently renovated, if I remember correctly. Both are charming antique hotels.

      I really like the walk along Market, if you’re going to a Cardinals game. A lot of beautiful buildings, especially City Hall.

      • “I really like the walk along Market, if you’re going to a Cardinals game. A lot of beautiful buildings, especially City Hall.”

        Interesting to hear. To me, the walk down Market from Union Station to Broadway is one of the ugliest, saddest walks in the city. Poorly-maintained and barely-used public space to the north (non-Citygarden division), characterless, deeply set-back Greek-lite architecture to the south, a too-wide road and barely-there human presence, both on foot and in vehicles.

        I hold onto hope that a rejuvenated Union Station will fix some of this — would love if downtown west came (back) into its own as a place of business, a place to live and a place of activity.

        • Chicagoan

          There isn’t much street life, but I just like all of the old buildings. The post office, the opera house, the court buildings, city hall, with the arch coming more and more into view as you walk. City Hall is incredible. I always have to stop for a minute to appreciate it.

    • The Louminator

      The indoor water park idea was a competing idea before LHM purchased the property. I thought it was published here? Water park, Ferris wheel……..all a bit gimmicky? These historic structures are so challenging to repurpose into long term sustainable success. I hope we find a success for this American landmark.

  • Sara

    New pedestrian entrance at Clark and 10th? Wouldn’t Clark and 18th be more appropriate?

    • Alex Ihnen

      You’re correct. “10th Street” is a typo.

  • Chicagoan

    I know there isn’t a demand for it, but it’d be cool to see Union Station become a railroad terminal again. The Grand Hall blows away what Chicago’s Union Station and New York’s Grand Central Terminal have in comparison.

    I’m glad it’s at least still around.

    Were there ever discussions to knock it down?

    • jhoff1257

      I’ve ridden Metra out of Chicago Union Station and that place sucks, Even KC Union Station is better and nicer then Chicago’s. But I don’t think St. Louis Union Station tops Grand Central though. Grand Central from it’s great hall to that beautiful arched brick restaurant are top notch.

      • Chicagoan

        I don’t think it “sucks”, but okay. The Great Hall is lovely, but the problem with Chicago Union Station is that it’s in need of a renovation and Amtrak and the city have been putting it off for a number of years. It has 15+ Amtrak routes and 5+ Metra routes, so it gets a lot of traffic and the maintenance hasn’t matched up.

        There’s been some work, the staircases made famous by The Untouchables were recently re-built, using material sourced from the original quarry near Rome.

        One of the big issues is that the station has 25,000+ feet of retail space that needs to be filled. Since the West Loop is one of the hottest development spots in the country right now, there’s been discussion regarding a bar, a hotel, and a grocery store going into the empty areas. Hopefully these developments happen.

        It also gets really hectic around 05:00 PM, with all of the people rushing to catch their commuter train. Chicago’s two biggest commuter terminals (Ogilvie and Union) are two blocks from each other, so it’s a zoo over there on weekdays. A large part of the renovation plans address this crowding issue, so that should help things.

        I’ve been to Kansas City Union Station and it’s very nice, but it’s much easier to maintain when it only has two Amtrak routes, which produce, what, a maximum of 10 daily trains? With no commuter rail presence. Chicago Union Station would be in great shape if it saw that little foot traffic. The two can’t be compared.

        • jhoff1257

          Again, like I told Kevin up top, I’m not sure what level of service has to do with this. You never mentioned passenger movement or trains per day in your first comment. In my opinion, architecturally, KC Union Station blows the doors off of Chicago’s. Has nothing to do with maintenance, it’s just a better looking station. Architecturally, Chicago’s is just boring. Obviously when it comes to actual use Chicago is quite a bit different.

          And if Chicago Union and KC Union can’t be compared I’m not exactly sure why you compared St. Louis Union to Chicago’s or NYC in the first place. KC Union Station has trains at least lol.

          • Chicagoan

            When I spoke of St. Louis’ Union Station being superior to Chicago’s Union Station and New York’s Grand Central Terminal, I meant in an architectural sense. Specifically, the exterior and grand/great hall of St. Louis’ station is superior to the ones of Chicago and New York. It was simply an outsider paying a compliment to one of your city’s many beautiful buildings.

            But, then you felt compelled to tell me how you rode Metra out of Chicago Union Station and that the place sucks. So, I offered a local’s perspective, telling you how I think the combination of daily/heavy traffic and deferred maintenance from Amtrak (the owner) and the city government has allowed it to deteriorate a good deal. Also, I told you how there’s a lot of unused office and retail space, so the building isn’t being used to its potential. Seriously, you should’ve seen the warped marble stairs in the Great Hall before they were replaced. It went a long time without much care.

      • Chicago’s Union Station is completely serviceable — exactly what you want from a heavily-used rail hub. Unobtrusive at street level, serves national and local heavy rail systems, fairly easy transfers once you know where you’re going or talk to a docent who does, hosts events and activities daily in and around its main hall.

        If STL’s multimodal center (either Gateway or Union Station) had a tenth of the daily hustle-and-bustle as Chicago’s, downtown –and probably the city — would be an entirely different experience (in a good way).

        • jhoff1257

          I’m not exactly sure what level of service has to do with this? I was simply replying to Chicagoan’s comment about St. Louis Union Station’s Grand Hall blowing away both Chicago Union and NYC Grand Central.

          Obviously Chicago Union functions better then Gateway from a passenger movement and “bustle” perspective…lol

  • John
    • Chicagoan

      I don’t think St. Louis should be trying to replicate the kitsch-y development patterns of Las Vegas.

      StL is too elegant for that.

  • CallieJean1947

    This sounds great, but, I hope they do something about security. We all remember the last renovation of the station was great, the stores were busy and the restaurants full. Before we knew it, it became a hangout for teenagers, and the stealing and fights started. That behavior ruined a thriving entertainment area for the rest of us. I live across from union station, I can’t wait to see this happen. I just hope that they put the needed security in place, so everyone can enjoy it.

    • Timm

      That was three DECADES ago

      • Alex Ihnen

        Yes. Places must be reinvented every so often. Heck, even St. Louis Centre had a chance, but the landlord and management company were at odds and let it sit for two decades without investment. That said, the reinvention of Union Station, and it’s (rightful) historic status means it will likely be tax abated forever as each remake is subsidized.

      • Lauren Zale

        Sorry, Tim. In fact security issues have been quite recent. You are welcome to consult STLPD for statistics. I visited a few short years ago, passing through after returning from Chicago and was harassed quite extensively by a mob of children who the police said they have daily problems with. Neighboring projects should be addressed.

        • jhoff1257

          A few short years ago? I was there last month after dark and had no problems with teens or criminals. It’s not wise to base your perceptions of a place on an experience you had 3 years ago.

          • Lauren Zale

            Kids were in bed after dark. We are talking about the same city, right? I’ve lived here long enough to know this wasn’t an isolated incident and as I said before, you are welcome to consult the Police Department for crime statistics for Union Station exclusively. I happened to personally know the Officer On Duty that day. This is an ongoing problem and the point was before making this investment security needs to be evaluated. I think it’s a very valid point.

          • matimal

            Do you consult crime statistics for the various places you go? Tell us how you use them. What IS your “valid point?” It’s not clear to me.

          • Lauren Zale

            Sorry my statement went over your head. My personal experience influences my decisions as well as my comments. Go spend a few nights there and come back to report your own statistics.

          • matimal

            Huh??? I’ve stayed in the hotel a dozen times in the last two years.

        • Woody Stemms

          Much of the nearby public housing has been demolished, but now the metrolink trains allow easy transit to both East St. Louis and North county. In addition, back in those days, there weren’t flash mobs of looters organized with social media.

          • matimal

            “Metrolink trains allow easy transit to East St. Louis and North county” for Clayton and The Central West End, too. They don’t have this, so you’re theory must be wrong.

        • matimal

          You aren’t sorry. You’re glad.

          • Lauren Zale

            Again, over your head. Sorry as in incorrect. Next.

          • matimal

            So, you’re a jerk as well as a cynic.

      • Woody Stemms

        Some of us have long memories. The plain and simple fact of the matter is that boom-box thugs with baggy pants turned the place into their clubhouse.

        • CallieJean1947

          Exactly right,nthey ran people away, because you just did not feel safe there.

          • matimal

            By “you” you mean ‘I’, right? You aren’t actually speaking for others, are you?

        • Adam

          “Boom-box thugs”? You might be getting your decades confused.

          • matimal

            …he’s been watching some old cop shows.

        • matimal

          Tell us about the old days, granpa……

      • CallieJean1947

        Just because it was decades ago, does not mean that the problem does not still exist. Thugs have created problems in tourist attractions allover the country. If anything, the problems have gotten worse. There is a Metro station right at Union Stations, and believe me,the idiots will see that as another way to create havoc,and ruin it for the rest of us.

    • matimal

      The kids were an effect, not a cause. Replicating the offerings of half a dozen suburban malls was the cause.