Coming soon to the ceiling of Union Station's soaring Grand Hall: actor and Affton native John Goodman.
He'll narrate a digital video display of the old train station's history, including visits by U.S. presidents and the terminal's role in moving millions of soldiers during World War II.
The $1.6 million display will be part of the station's $66.3 million makeover by its new owner, Lodging Hospitality Management.
Initial phases include remodeling the midway area and guest room refurbishment at the station's 539-room hotel. Under way is renovation of spaces to accommodate small conventions.
Craig Cobler, LHM's senior vice president of development, said the Grand Hall's digital display will be part of a larger makeover of the station's barrel-roofed entry hall. A floor-level, 100-foot bar will replace the raised cocktail lounge there now.
A gift shop with a model train display and a Starbucks will be built in an alcove off the hall. The work is scheduled for completion by April.
Officials at LHM, which bought Union Station a year ago for $20 million, hope the Goodman-narrated video will prompt visitors to linger for a drink or wander into the gift shop.
"We want to hold them," Cobler said. "That's the goal."
He attended a meeting Wednesday of the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. LHM sought, and got, the committee's approval of 20 years of tax abatement for Union Station.
Alderman Christine Ingrassia, whose 6th Ward encompasses the station, spoke in favor of LHM's request.
She said later the city is fortunate to have a developer "willing to take on such a financial risk" of redoing the complex.
Two special taxing districts, each with a 1-cent sales tax, already cover the station. In addition, the owner is entitled to $3.5 million in sales tax rebates spread over 20 years.
Union Station, a national historic landmark, became a national hub of rail passenger service after it opened in 1894. But the nationwide decline of rail service in the 1950s affected St. Louis, too. Amtrak left in 1978.
A $140 million renovation and restoration by the Rouse Co. of Baltimore produced a grand reopening in 1985 under Rouse's model of "festival marketplace." Business thrived for a few years, but without a strong anchor the station fell out of favor with St. Louis residents and tourists.
LHM, a hotel operator based in West Port Plaza, bought Union Station from Union Station Holdings LLC, which put the station up for sale after years of absorbing losses.
The new owner's plan includes conversion of some retail space to offices. Some nonprofit firms already have shown interest in the space, Ingrassia said. Also in the works is a transportation museum, chartered excursion train service and a sports hall of fame.
In addition, the station's train shed will undergo $10 million in repairs.
At Ingrassia's urging, LHM has agreed to spend $250,000 to repair sidewalks and provide new lights at Aloe Plaza, which is across Market Street from Union Station. The improvements will be in addition to the lighting upgrades done last year at the plaza's Milles fountain. Ingrassia said the LHM-financed work probably won't be done until next year.
Cobler said renovation of some Union Station areas is unneeded. An example is the oak-paneled dining room near the Grand Hall. All it needs is a "fluff and buff," he said.
Copyright 2013 - St. Louis Post-Dispatch