Remaking Union Station

With the new St. Louis Aquarium as the centerpiece, St. Louis Union Station will end 2019 with a complete makeover that includes a 200 foot Ferris wheel and a family entertainment complex

By Charlotte Beard

Before the end of 2019, St. Louis will welcome two highly-anticipated main attractions to the St. Louis Union Station along with other amenities in a $187 million family entertainment complex. On July 11 Lodging Hospitality Management (LHM) and ICON Attractions announced at a media-only event that the 200-foot-tall St. Louis Wheel is anticipated to open for operation in October and the St. Louis Aquarium plans to open in mid-December.

“This is an exciting project,” stated Bob O’Loughlin, LHM Chairman and CEO. “As everybody knows in St. Louis, we’ve been involved with Union Station for 12 years now. We completely re-did all the guest rooms—150,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space. When we got to the 120,000 square feet, we (asked) what has St. Louis always wanted that they don’t have? We’re the largest city in the United States that doesn’t have an aquarium. So, we decided we’re going to do an aquarium. We went all over the United States and literally all over the world to figure out what would go with (the aquarium). We (concluded) that not only a world class aquarium, but a 200 foot Ferris wheel would probably be fitting. St. Louis has a rich tradition with the Union Station which was the world’s largest train station at the turn of the century. We were the third largest city in the United States. We probably would not have had the World’s Fair or the Olympics for the first time on U.S. soil in 1904 if it wasn’t for Union Station because that’s how everybody got here.”

Eli Stovall, Managing Partner for ICON Attractions – the company that will operate the St. Louis Wheel – also shared ICON’s hope for the observation wheel’s contribution to St. Louis.

“At ICON attractions we’re passionate about entertainment and entertainment experiences,” stated Stovall. “We couldn’t be more humbled and honored to be a part of this great team and this landmark project here in St. Louis at Union Station. This is an amazing city. This (wheel) will change the landscape; it will be a new landmark to add to the city of St. Louis at 200 feet tall. That’s 50 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York. So, it is significant and fitting for St. Louis at Union Station. There will be 42 fully climate-controlled gondolas – air conditioning in the summer and heated in the winter. Once you’re onboard you will have visibility for up to 20 miles in any direction. It will be open 365 days a year – rain or shine.”

Other things to note about the wheel is that among the 42 Swiss-made eight-passenger gondolas there will also be a VIP gondola with glass floors, and leather bucket seats. All the gondolas have a glass exterior and interior lights. The wheel is stated to carry a maximum of 336 passengers per 12-to-15-minute ride.

Property owner and developer O’Loughlin reflected on George Ferris’ 264 foot wheel which Ferris built in 1893 and was moved from Chicago to St. Louis in 1904 for the World’s Fair. O’Loughlin hopes that with the new St. Louis Wheel, the aquarium and other new attractions, St. Louis can educate the estimated 1.5 million to 2 million people expected to visit yearly of the city’s rich history.

Erin Clark, Director of Animal Projects for the St. Louis Aquarium, hopes the 120,000 square feet, two-story centerpiece of the new development at Union Station will add to the experience of St. Louisans and tourists.

“To say that we’re excited to open the St. Louis Aquarium would be an understatement,” stated Clark. “As the new aquarium in the country, we will provide a great experience for the St. Louis families and visitors that come here from across the nation. A visit to the aquarium is a hands-on experience, and we expect every single person that leaves will do so with their hands wet. For this and many reasons we think the St. Louis Aquarium will enhance the lives of St. Louisans and those that visit. Personally, one of the most fascinating exhibits to me that is under construction (now), is one that is going to show you what lies exactly beneath the surface of the mighty Mississippi River. My colleague Aaron (Sprowl), our general curator is a big fan of the lesser devil ray. They have a great wingspan. They glide elegantly through the water. We also expect that everyone will fall in love with our otters and yes – Lord Stanley, our favorite crustacean.”

Lord Stanley, the lobster which is blue due to genetics, was donated to the aquarium after the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup.

Clark shared that among the more than 13,000 aquatic animals (managed in more than one million gallons of water), there will be a variety of creatures that will appeal to all visitors not limited to turtles, jelly fish, piranhas and sharks. Many of the animals will be coming from zoos and aquariums. The St. Louis Aquarium is also working with accredited suppliers and breeders to supply additional animals. Additionally, Clark stresses that the zoOceanarium Group has professionals in place to ensure that all animals receive proper care. She also shared that the aquarium has a robust internal training program.

To honor the history of St. Louis Union Station’s railroad, visitors will enter the aquarium via a 3-D virtual reality train ride where they will be educated on the various animals. The second floor will include a variety of interactive exhibits and touch tanks to create a hands-on and hands-wet experience. 

The St. Louis Union Station’s family entertainment complex, built under the train shed, will also include: The Carousel at St. Louis Union Station for young children, a 18-hole miniature golf course, The Train Park for outdoor concerts and events, the Mirror Maze (adventure maze), ropes course for rope climbing and zipping along the train shed pillars, a two-acre river park with splash and play areas, and a boardwalk with fire pits and chairs on Union Station Lake for a daily fire and light show set to music. In addition, the former Old Hard Rock Café is being converted to a soda fountain to provide a throwback experience to the 50s and 60s, the former Houlihan’s is being converted to The Train Shed to serve beer on tap, the 1894 Café will be on the upper level of the aquarium, and the Fudgery will make a comeback.

Admission costs to the completed St. Louis Aquarium exhibits is currently pending. However, it has been stated that the St. Louis Aquarium Foundation will work to make sure underserved schools and communities will receive free admission to the aquarium.

For more information about the St. Louis Aquarium visit www.StLouisAquarium.com and follow @aquariumstl on social media.

CUTLINE: Submitted photos These artists renderings show the completed St. Louis Aquarium, which will be open to the public in December of this year.