Taste & See KC: Repurposed Union Station brings beautiful education, entertainment space to KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Union Station is one of the signature architectural features people think of when our city comes to mind, but it wasn’t always as beautiful as it is today.

Union Station went from a prosperous railroad station to a dilapidated building that would cost millions to redevelop.

Today, it’s home to Science City, traveling exhibits, restaurants, shops and more.

Let’s take a look back on this building’s (stationary) journey:

Floods consumed the existing transportation hub in Kansas City, Union Depot, in 1903. Railroad executives decided to build a new station on higher ground.

In 1906, twelve railroad companies came together to form the Kansas City Terminal Railroad (KCTR), and Jarvis Hunt was selected as the architect for the new structure. He designed the station in a style popular in France and the U.S. at the time.

KCTR invested $50 million in the project to construct Union Station, track additions, switching towers, viaducts, and bridges. Measured in 2017 dollars, that’s more than a $1 billion investment. The station itself cost $6 million, which would be more than $140 million today.

In 1911, construction began and by 1914, the first train was pulling in.

Passenger traffic peaked in the mid-40s, with more than 670,000 passengers passing through the station in one year. Traffic was bolstered by World Wars I and II.

By 1950, however, passenger traffic began to decrease and some of the restaurants and shops inside began to close.

During this period, the station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1983, Union Station closed completely except for one restaurant and some Amtrak operations, which were both gone six years later.

Before the station closed, Kansas City hired a Canadian company to redevelop Union Station and the surrounding area, but it didn’t deliver on its promises. The city sued and eventually settled with the company.

Meanwhile, the former hub sat empty and deteriorating. Video from inside the structure shows holes in the ceiling, caution tape stretched across entryways, and water and dust coating the floor.

Fast forward to 1996 and voters in Jackson, Platte and Clay counties approved possibly the first-ever bi-state sales tax increase to help restore Union Station to its former glory.

The tax raised $118 million and the remaining funds came from private donations and federal funds. In total, it was a $250 million project.

Three years later Union Station reopened to the public and included shops, restaurants, theaters, exhibits and Science City.

In 2002, Amtrak returned to the station.

It continues to see improvements as Kansas Citians embrace both its history and what it has to offer today.

It’s now home to a 20,000-square-foot exhibit space which houses traveling exhibits such as Bodies Revealed, Diana, Titanic, and Mummies of the World.

Science City is preparing for upgrades as well. Union Station leaders recently announced they would partner with Boston Children’s Museum to create a space for early childhood learning.

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