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New owner lights up Union Station's Grand Hall

New owner lights up Union Station's Grand Hall


Actor John Goodman’s booming voice resounded at Union Station as the narrator of a video shown Friday in the historic train station’s Grand Hall.

Goodman, the Affton-area native and Hollywood star, was elsewhere but Union Station’s owners were present to show off the just-completed video about the station and other new features to guests and reporters.

About 30 brief videos, most of them animated, will be in a rotation of projections that will be splashed across the Grand Hall’s 65-foot, barrel-vaulted ceiling at night. The high-tech displays are part of the multimillion renovation of Union Station.

The station, a National Historic Landmark, opened in 1894 and for decades was among the nation’s busiest passenger rail terminals.

In the 1960s, passenger rail service began to decline nationwide and, in 1978, Amtrak pulled out of Union Station. The landmark remained dormant until the Rouse Co., of Baltimore, reopened it in 1985 as a “festival marketplace” after a $140 million renovation and restoration. But the station’s retail business faded and, in 2012, Lodging Hospitality Management bought the station and its 539-room hotel for $20 million.

LHM plans to put about $60 million into the station with projects that include a “family entertainment” area in the current retail space and a 200-foot Ferris wheel on the parking lot.

Just completed is the renovation of the Grand Hall as a bar and event space. Room renovations at the station’s Hilton Double Tree Hotel are underway and will be done in June. The station’s new 50,000-square-foot exhibit space off the midway already has hosted 17 meetings, said Bob O’Loughlin, LHM’s chief executive.

In addition, excursion train service will resume this year for the first time since 2005, he said. Chartered rail trips will be available to Chicago, Kansas City and Missouri’s wine country.

Trips to Chicago will be pitched to Cardinals fans who want to take the train to see their team play the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Fans of trains and football will be able to follow the Rams to watch them play the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

“We have a train station,” O’Loughlin said. “We might as well have trains.”

Planning is underway for the two-level family entertainment area that will replace the retail area and food court beneath the station’s arching metal shed. The renovated area will likely have bumper cars, a rope-climbing area, a carousel, restaurants and other attractions. Steve O’Loughlin, LHM’s president and Bob O’Loughlin’s son, said another possible attraction is a “four-D” theater with moving seats and other sense-tingling features.

Officials of Maryland Heights-based LHM said the $10 million Ferris wheel will have climate-controlled cars to allow year-round use. Bob O’Loughlin said the entertainment area will have an admission fee but customers will get free parking.

Construction could begin this winter and take about 18 months, Steve O’Loughlin said.

Even after the current round of projects, Union Station will still have about 30,000 square feet of space that could be developed as offices, LHM officials said.

The new light shows on the Grand Hall’s ceiling are the work of Technomedia Solutions, of Orlando, Fla. Included are colorful, animated displays of swaying daffodils, growing grass, flying birds and blowing snow. Projections, each 30 to 45 seconds in length, will be shown at least hourly.

Among the longer displays is the Goodman-narrated video made up of black-and-white photos of the old station and its passengers over the decades. It concludes with his upbeat assessment that “the city’s jewel shines on.”

Or as the elder O’Loughlin put it — noting the station’s original development, the 1985 renovation and the current makeover: “The third time is the charm.”

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Tim Bryant is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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