PGAV rendering of Union Station aquarium

A concept rendering by PGAV Destinations shows what an indoor underground aquarium might look like at Union Station. Lodging Hospitality Management, the company that owns Union Station, announced Tuesday, May 2, 2017, that PGAV Destinations would design the aquarium, which would open in 2019.

Union Station owners said Tuesday they are now hoping to begin construction on a $45 million aquarium this fall with completion expected by summer 2019. That represents a delay of several months. When Lodging Hospitality Management first announced plans for the attraction in August, completion was expected by late 2018.

The price tag of the aquarium hasn’t changed, but the scope of the project has been somewhat reduced . The aquarium, replacing an old mall beneath the station, would be 65,000 square feet instead of 75,000 square feet and would feature tanks holding a combined 700,000 gallons of water instead of 1 million, as was also announced in August.

Bob O’Loughlin, chairman and chief executive of LHM previously said about $20 million of the cost would be covered by a tax increment financing agreement and two pre-existing special taxing districts that collect a 1 percent tax on sales at Union Station.

“We’re prepared to pay most of it in cash,” O’Loughlin said. The amount of loans owners would take out is yet to be decided, he added.

O’Loughlin said St. Louis-based PGAV Destinations had been chosen to design the aquarium, which owners are hoping will attract 1 million visitors annually.

The aquarium is supposed to be part of a $100 million “family entertainment complex” in Union Station including other attractions such as a large Ferris wheel. LHM says it hoped the 30-seat attraction would bring in 500,000 visitors annually.

The aquarium will be open to the public “365 days a year” and will feature fish “from all over the world,” O’Loughlin said, as well as freshwater exhibits featuring native species from the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

O’Loughlin said voters’ rejection of funding for a professional soccer stadium on state-owned land just west of Union Station did not affect the aquarium proposal or other plans for transforming Union Station, including the addition of 30 new guest rooms and expanding meeting space by 30,000 square feet.

“Obviously I view downtown as primarily conventions, tourist and sports,” O’Loughlin said. “Anything to help fill up the downtown area would be good.”

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