At its opening on September 1, 1894, Union Station was the largest and busiest railroad station on the planet. What’s more, it was a one-of-a-kind architectural marvel: a gold-leafed Grand Hall, Romanesque arches, stained glass ceilings, and the world’s largest roof span. Union Station was where spouses embraced upon returning from World War I and where visitors arrived for the World’s Fair.
Now, more than 40 years after the last train left Union Station, this National Historic Landmark is being transformed into a futuristic landmark that’s poised to attract more visitors than the Station has ever seen—and it starts with 1.3 million gallons of water.
The St. Louis Aquarium, slated to open in winter of 2019, is what many consider to be the final puzzle piece that will fulfill Downtown St. Louis’ potential as a global tourist destination. St. Louis has long been one of the few major cities in the U.S. without an aquarium, but after inking a deal with developers in late 2016, the vision quickly became a reality.
But that progress hasn’t come hassle-free.
“Transforming an old mall from 1985 into a state-of-the-art aquarium without affecting the existing structure, sight lines, and materials came with challenges, but we’re thrilled with what we have in store,” says Chad Smith, Vice President of Design at Lodging Hospitality Management (the aquarium’s developer.)
The St. Louis Aquarium marries timeless infrastructure with futuristic aquatic attractions to create an experience that rivals the likes of the Georgia Aquarium and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
“The space is layered with technology that’s both educational and beautiful,” says Smith.
Between a 250,000-gallon shark tank, hands-on interaction with sea creatures, and a trio of dining options, one could devote an entire day to exploring the premises.
But it’s not just sharks and jellyfish that make the St. Louis Aquarium so appealing. Downtown is already experiencing an economic upswing, and this project will be like jet fuel for tourism and economic development in the Gateway City.
“The Aquarium will draw more than a million visitors in 2020—that’s nearly as many as the Arch on an annual basis,” says Smith. “The magnitude of this attraction’s impact on Downtown can’t be overstated.”
Whether you’re a kid looking for some face time with sea creatures or civic enthusiast rooting for Downtown’s next economic development win, it’s safe to say the St. Louis Aquarium is the “splash” you’re hoping for.