With the loss of the Rams football team in 2016, St. Louis has been wondering what attractions will be able to help breathe more life into the downtown area. While nothing in St. Louis is quite as big as the sports scene, a new aquarium shows promise in attracting families to St. Louis.
The St. Louis Aquarium is on track to open in October 2019 in Union Station. This modern 21st-century spectacle will be housed within the 19th-century train shed and occupy about three-quarters of the space. The construction of the aquarium alone– which is part of a $160 million family entertainment installation –is expected to attract one million visitors a year.
The Ever-Evolving St. Louis Union Station
St. Louis Union Station has played many roles in St. Louis since its opening to the public in 1894. Originally owned by the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, Union Station was designed with three main areas: the Headhouse, the Midway, and the train shed. This was the train station that brought in visitors for the 1904 World’s Fair and Olympics and sent thousands of soldiers away during WWII.
In its hay day in the 1940s, Union Station had over 100,000 passengers traveling through each day– making it one of the biggest and busiest stations in the world. It shut down after Amtrak relocated its St. Louis station in 1978 but reopened in 1985 after a $140 million renovation that repurposed the train shed into a two-story shopping mall and food court.
In 2012, Union Station was purchased by Lodging Hospitality Management for the hotel– and the mall came with it. At first, they weren’t sure what to do with the mall. Then using the inspiration of the family-friendly Navy Pier in Chicago, the idea of the aquarium surfaced. Now the execution of plans for a $160 million family entertainment complex is underway in the train shed. Along with the aquarium will include an outdoor entertainment park, an observation wheel, and food and drink venues.
Why an Aquarium?
Of all the attractions we don’t have in St. Louis, why an aquarium? St. Louis is one of the 20 largest cities in the US yet we don’t have an aquarium. And as explained by Lodging Hospitality Management, aquariums are a great complement to hotels and appeal to all ages. Plus this attraction brings many jobs to St. Louis, as well as the opportunity to support marine conservation efforts.
Because the train shed is designated as a National Historic Landmark, the decision of what would be done with the space was a carefully considered one. Key players with LHM visited aquariums around the country to get an idea of what the St. Louis Aquarium might fit in the historical building. The objective is to preserve the original architecture while creating a modern design and experience that transforms Union Station.
The aquarium is expected to do just that. Not only will the St. Louis Aquarium provide visitors with the opportunity to interact with animals they may not have otherwise had, but it will attract people who might not otherwise visit St. Louis.
A Look in the Fish Tank
So when the 1.3 million gallons of water have been moved into Union Station and the sea animals have taken up their new residence, what can we expect of this aquarium? Unlike most aquariums you’ve probably experienced, the St. Louis Aquarium will be an interactive experience.
Here you will be able to get your hands wet meeting and learning about thousands of aquatic species from rivers and oceans around the world. This will include 160 different small mammals and several different species of sharks. The aquarium will also feature a Mississippi and Missouri River Confluence exhibit dedicated to educating about the local river fauna.
The aquarium is only part of the new experience currently being built in Union Station. Patrons will be also able to ride a Ferris wheel, eat at restaurants, experience the Fire and Light show, listen to music in the Train Park, and even ride the trains that will run for special events.
The folks behind the construction of the aquarium are confident that Union Station will become a destination hotel and entertainment complex. LHM claims to have many conventions already booked at Union Station and many more conventions looking to book. With the development of this new and exciting attraction, the aquarium is looking very promising for the future of downtown St. Louis.
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