The owner of Union Station has tweaked an ambitious plan to revitalize the historic downtown St. Louis landmark, with construction set to begin in three weeks.
The changes include adding more hotel rooms and a light show at Union Station. A proposed roller coaster no longer is part of the project.
Lodging Hospitality Management, Union Station’s owner, said construction will begin Feb. 1. Company officials said the project will transform Union Station’s indoor and outdoor retail and entertainment areas.
LHM brought in Groundswell Design Group of Philadelphia to devise light shows, a fountain and what it calls a “fire show” at Union Station’s small lake. Other features will include a “gateway light tunnel” and 3-D animation above the lake and on the hotel facade.
In addition, 48 hotel rooms and 30,000 square feet of event space will replace the station’s mall area. The renovation will give Union Station a total of 587 hotel rooms and 137,000 square feet of event space.
Bob O’Loughlin, LHM chief executive, said Sunday the projects will cost about $100 million, boosting his company’s total investment to about $150 million. Included will be restoration of the massive steel train shed to look much as it did when new more than 120 years ago.
“That’s where a lot of the money is going,” he said.
The latest redevelopment phase had been scheduled to begin nearly a year ago and was to have included a small roller coaster, which has been deleted from the project. O’Loughlin said LHM delayed and redesigned the project when company officials discovered the popularity of Union Station’s full-sized train attractions, including the Polar Express excursion trains that operate during the holidays. He said the new hotel rooms will have train-themed decorations and overlook a train track.
Most of the station’s retail tenants will be gone when the redevelopment is completed. O’Loughlin said that among those asked to stay are the Cardinals-themed store and the Fudgery, a mainstay since the station’s redevelopment by the Rouse Co., of Baltimore, in the 1980s. He said the shift away from retail is an attempt to capture more of downtown’s emphasis on family-oriented attractions including City Museum and the Gateway Arch grounds, which are undergoing a $380 million renovation.
“As always, we will pay homage to the rich history of St. Louis and Union Station by creating a great entertainment destination to be enjoyed by guests of all ages,” O’Loughlin said.
The new DoubleTree Hotel rooms that are being added will have 50-inch televisions with “sound bars” for a theater-like experience, hardwood floors and walk-in showers.
Next to the train shed and near the Hard Rock Cafe will be the 200-foot St. Louis Wheel, which will be open all year and have 42 enclosed gondolas, each equipped with seating for eight adults. One “VIP” gondola will have leather bucket seats, a stereo system, and a glass floor.
Also near Hard Rock will be new green space leading to a plaza toward the lake and Landry’s restaurant.
Existing outdoor space will be turned over to old train cars and steel shipping containers redone as food and drink outlets for barbecue, burgers, ice cream, craft beer, wine and cocktails.
At 18th Street and Clark Avenue, a new pedestrian entrance is to include what LHM said will be an illuminated archway to guide visitors to the plaza, which is designed for festivals, live music, farmers markets, craft fairs and other events.
“Festoon lighting along the pathways in seating areas will provide illumination and guide visitors through the space,” David Fierabend, principal of Groundswell Design, said in a press release. “A special Tube Light show will be featured every 30 minutes which will synchronize with music.”
The outdoor food, drink and plaza work will be done by this summer, LHM said. The hotel expansion is to be done by February 2017 and the Ferris wheel open in summer 2018.
Union Station, a national historic landmark, opened in 1894 and for decades was among the nation’s busiest passenger train terminals. It closed in 1978 when Amtrak relocated its St. Louis passenger operation.
A $140 million renovation completed in 1985 by the Rouse Co. redid Union Station as a “festival marketplace.” Success lasted only a few years as tenants and visitors drifted away.
LHM bought the station in 2012 for $20 million and has since put more than $40 million in its hotel and vaulted Grand Hall. The company also reworked the Midway area for large meetings and exhibits.
Planning for the latest redevelopment phase has been underway for a couple of years. When the Ferris wheel feature was announced last January, LHM officials pegged the phase’s overall cost at $60 million.
LHM, based in Maryland Heights, has 17 hotels, eight restaurants and two commercial properties. Among the hotels is the Hilton at the Ballpark, near Busch Stadium, and its Three Sixty rooftop bar.
Groundswell’s projects include Spruce Street Harbor Park next to the Delaware River in Philadelphia. It, too, has shipping containers reworked over as food and drink venues.
LHM said more attractions are in the works for Union Station. Plans will be announced this spring to redo 75,000 square feet of indoor space as “a major family attraction,” the company said.