Union Station officials propose $12 million in improvements

union-stationStreetcars approved by voters last week will roll into Union Station in a few years, and station officials want to greet them with $12 million in improvements.

They told the city council last week that the upgrades would propel the historic depot into the future at about the time of its 100th birthday in 2014.

Among the proposed changes, if the station can get state tax credits and raise the private contributions:

  • The “digital sandbox,” the Midwest’s largest 3D digital theater screen that could stream interactive images all over the world.
  • A walkway that would connect the digital theater, Science City, the Gottlieb Planetarium and an innovation center.
  • A bridge that would link the station and the parking garage, and a community event space for various programs, such as urban gardening.

Station officials have city council support in requesting $5 million in tax credits from the Missouri Development Finance Board.

George Guastello, union station president and CEO, noted how far the station had come since a 1996 bi-state tax passed for the then deteriorated building. The $250 million renovation, funded by the tax, federal money and private donations, was finished in 1999.

Then the station lost money on its operations for years, started to break even in 2009 and then became profitable, largely because of blockbuster exhibits.

But the renovation was always a big winner, Guastello told the council.

“For $117 million raised on both sides of the state line, it was the single most successful economic development tool in the history of Kansas City,” he said. “Today over $700 million in private investment has happened just within the Union Station, Crown Center and Liberty Memorial area in the last 13 years.”

He added, “that being said, it is not enough.”

Improvements are needed to support tenants in the fully leased building, to attract private investment and to rebuild the station’s endowment, he said.

It would take about 2½ years to do all the improvements, he said. If the bonds are quickly approved and private money raised, much could be done in time for the building’s 100th anniversary on Oct. 30, 2014.

And people say those new streetcars could be rolling in 2015.


An architect’s design for Union Station improvements.

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