St. Louis Union Station modernized for changing city

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Just five years ago, the downtown St. Louis skyline was just the Gateway Arch and the buildings that surround it.

Today, St. Louis Union Station, the terminal that once served as a Midwest hub for travelers in the early-to-mid 1900s has completely evolved, adding major attractions like a 65,000-square-foot aquarium and the ultimate skyline-changing accessory: a 200-foot-tall wheel.

Photo by KP Benton. The Union Station Ferris Wheel, which officially debuted on Sep. 30, 2019, sits in the midday sun at the station’s entrance on Nov. 23, 2022.

“The first time I went to Union Station, there were no interior attractions,” Webster sophomore Christian Lenoir said. “Then I went this summer and last week again, it was a bit different.”

On Oct. 31, 1978, the last departing train left the station. Almost immediately after, Union Station was purchased by Oppenheimer and reopened in 1985, restored as a shopping mall cited by American-Rails as “one of the city’s preeminent destinations.” In the early 2000s, the mall shuttered. 

Photo by KP Benton. Webster students visiting Union Station for the holidays navigate their way through the Mirror Maze on Nov. 23, 2022.

In 2011, the property underwent a major upgrade by Marriott Hotels to provide more accommodations to incoming visitors.

The first phase of the property’s Train Park revamp, the Fire and Light Show at the Lake, opened to the public a few years later, featuring nine fire pods within the koi pond. Every hour on the hour each evening, a musical synchronized light show projects onto the ceiling panels above the lake.

Photo by KP Benton. St. Louis Aquarium visitors file into the entrance at the former Union Station Mall on Nov. 23, 2022, gazing up at the digital, vibrant aquatic-themed light show on the ceiling.

Once one phase of expansion was completed, more additions came flowing in, one after another. The St. Louis Wheel, a carousel and mini-golf opened in September 2019. The Ropes Course, Mirror Maze and Train Shed Restaurant opened soon after.

Besides being located at St. Louis Union Station, what connects these attractions to one another is St. Louis-based PGAV Destinations. The company’s hand in the development of these attractions is its design of the structures within the Train Park.

Photo by KP Benton. Koi fish in one of nine koi ponds at Train Park.

“The fact that PGAV Destinations is a St. Louis company means that they can appreciate the value of Union Station and its history and importance to the community,” Bob O’Loughlin, chairman and CEO of Lodging Hospitality Management (LHM), said.

PGAV Destinations has designed many of the nation’s top aquatic attractions in particular, including some exhibits at the Saint Louis Zoo, Discovery Cove and SeaWorld. 

Photo by KP Benton. Webster students Christian Lenoir and Beck Steinke explore one of the St. Louis Aquarium’s many touch pools on Nov. 23, 2022, reaching out to touch a starfish and a sea urchin.

The unique architectural design of the new St. Louis Union Station resulted in the drawing in of visitors and the enrichment of current St. Louis residents. 

Photo by KP Benton. A patron at Union Station prepares to make the jump on the zipline portion of the ropes course on Nov. 23, 2022.

“You can clearly see that they’re trying to make the area nicer, more touristy, and a nice place for people to hang out,” Lenoir said.

The combined expansion of the Union Station was part of a $100 million family entertainment complex. The St. Louis Wheel and its additions accommodate approximately 500,000 annual visitors. 

“I enjoyed the whole place because I didn’t know what to expect to come next,” Webster junior Abdul McCreary said.

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