Kansas City Union Station is a prime example of how smart investment coupled with a strategic vision for making the station a destination can help grow tourism in the local community.
First opening in 1914, Union Station was the third-largest train station in the country and was a gateway to the American West. At its peak, an estimated one million travelers passed through the station. During this time, Kansas City business owners saw Union Station as ripe with opportunity for shops, restaurants and hotels — many of which have since become National landmarks. But with the rise of automotive transportation and highway use, train traffic through Union Station steadily declined, fell into a state of dilapidation by the mid-twentieth century and was eventually abandoned.
In 1996, residents in five adjacent counties approved a 1/8 cent sales tax, part of which funded half of the $250 million restoration project. More funding was provided by private foundations and state and federal grants. Renovations were completed in November, 1999. The Kansas City Museum, as Science City, was a major participant in the restoration.
Today, Union Station provides not only intermodal transportation, but also serves as a destination in itself, with a large interactive science museum, rail exhibit, Irish museum and Cultural Center, five-story Regnier Extreme Screen theater and Gottlieb Planetarium, the Block theater, as well as restaurants, shops and event spaces. Union Station is self-supporting due to its various partnerships. Through careful renovation and strategic planning, the station is once again a popular destination for the surrounding community, but also draws tourists from all over the world — a great example for other stations looking to turn their neglected station into a tourist hot spot.