By LESLIE COLLINS
December 19, 2012
Years ago, the grandeur of Union Station faded to a desolate state as the last of its tenants bid farewell in 1989. For nearly 10 years, the once bustling station stood silent and continued its path of decay. Rain and winter weather wreaked havoc on the building, compromising the plaster and limestone walls. Substantial sections of the ceiling dropped to the floor and Union Station became categorized as a “dangerous building.”
Some wanted to tear down the structure that originally opened in 1914 and turn the land into a green space. Others fought for the history of Kansas City and now Union Station has become a landmark.
“It truly has become the heart of the city,” said former chairman of the board of Union Station Kansas City Mike Haverty.
Now, that “heart of the city” could see significant improvements if all goes as planned.
Union Station board members are proposing a $12 million project that focuses on visitor access improvements, visitor experience, attractions and replenishing the endowment. To fund the upgrades, Union Station is seeking a $5 million tax credit through the Missouri Development Finance Board and will also solicit private donations.
“I think what is planned here takes Union Station to the next level,” Haverty said.
The board is hoping to complete the project in time for Union Station’s 100th anniversary on Nov. 1, 2014.
Currently, Union Station is operating in the black and at 100 percent tenant capacity, housing organizations like the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas City Area Development Council, the U.S. Post Office, several restaurants, Science City and other tenants. In addition, Union Station features traveling exhibits, which have included the Titanic, Princess Diana and the Science of Rock n Roll.
Thanks to a $1.6 million federal grant, Union Station will partner with the University of Missouri-Kansas City Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to host a business incubator at the station, which will serve up to eight start-up businesses that focus on digital growth. UMKC will provide coaching and other guidance to the businesses.
Union Station will also invest in the latest 3D digital projection technology and surround system to transform the Iwerks Extreme Screen Theater into the largest 3D movie screen and digital 3D theatre in the Midwest, said Union Station’s President and Chief Executive Officer George Guastello II. The theatre will seat 400 and the screen itself will be 55 feet tall and 70 feet wide, Guastello said. Guastello envisions the theatre can be used not only for educational films, but for virtual teleconferences for businesses, city government and schools.
To make Union Station more pedestrian friendly, a garage link will be built to create a direct connection between Union Station and the parking garage off of Pershing Road. The pedestrian friendly bridge link would direct patrons to the front entrance of Union Station instead of the back and provide direct access to Level 3 of the garage.
Other proposed improvements include:
•Creating an “urban space” in the underutilized plaza between Union Station and the parking garage by adding picnic areas, shaded seating, a band stand and displaying the Station’s historic rail cars and locomotives in a “unique garden setting.” The space could then be used for special community events.
•Building a 2,800 square foot addition to create a multi-purpose space that could provide seating for up to 120 people and cater to school groups, among others.
•Updating the 3D theatre lobby to include guest concessions, new secured access, automated ticketing kiosks and better pedestrian flow. The lobby will also become a reception space for conferences and meetings in the 3D theatre and surrounding spaces.
•Creating a “space portal walkway” to create a free flow between attractions so patrons won’t have to leave Science City. The space portal will provide a “futuristic gangway providing an immersive space station interior experience with simulated views into deep space.”
City Council member John Sharp commended the proposed upgrades.
“It’s a vibrant place again and I think these planned improvements will make it even more successful,” Sharp said.
Bob Regnier, who serves on the Union Station Kansas City board of directors, summed up the project by saying, “Union Station should be a place for the city and the region to celebrate. It’s a great opportunity to showcase what is really great about Kansas City, Mo.”