Monday, September 28, 2009

Big Changes Coming to Union Station

According to the Post-Dispatch, Marriott is planning a significant expansion of its hotel at Union Station.

Doug Dean, the Marriott's general manager, said the hotel renovation will restore some of the inn's original 1890s configuration. He noted that the original front desk was off the atrium, remarkable for its glass-block floor. All 539 rooms, including the 67 in the station's original "headhouse," will be redone. Dean declined to specify the overall cost, saying it remained "a moving target."

Four meeting rooms and a restaurant will be built near the new lobby. One floor above, the existing restaurant will be used mainly for private events. Beginning with a ballroom freshening done by November, the renovation project will be completed in late 2011, he said.
The expansion will extend the hotel’s meeting and restaurant space into the western portion of Union Station’s retail area, concentrating retail shops along the eastern concourse. My hope is that this will result in fewer low-quality retailers. Union Station needs to keep the few remaining quality stores it still has - such as the Cardinals Clubhouse - boot the bad stores, and work hard to pull in good new ones like it once had.

Also:
Frances Percich, Union Station's marketing manager, said "serious" discussions are under way with two retailers, including one that would be new to St. Louis. She declined to name them. Percich said the station will continue to market itself as a tourist attraction with numerous spring and summer events.
I have no problem with Union Station being a tourist-focused destination, but there's no reason why it can't appeal to locals, especially those who live and work downtown and in the surrounding neighborhoods.

It seems to me that the various entities that have managed Union Station over the years have always underestimated its appeal to local residents. I think there is a decent segment of the population who would like to visit Union Station periodically for dining or shopping, but are completely turned off by the one problem that Union Station has never addressed:

LACK OF FREE PARKING.

Simply validating parking for visitors who dine or make purchases at Union Station would have a tremendous impact on the number of locals who spend time there.

10 comments:

Jennifer said...

Then again, if we're encouraging growth at Union Station as a use for _local_ residents, shouldn't we also be encouraging those residents to arrive in some way other than private auto? We've got a MetroLink station right at Union Station, and numerous bus routes in the vicinity. Making parking free would encourage people to drive, increase demand for parking, and then Union Station would be looking to increase the amount of parking there. Not a very urban solution. Parking is scarce in many urban environments but that doesn't seem to discourage people from coming out & dining & shopping.

Brian said...

^
We're talking about St. Louisans here though.

Anonymous said...

IKEA?

Anonymous said...

MetroLink is seen as unreliable (true) and the "We Demand Free Parking" dominates Forest Park, the Botanical Gardens, Tower Grove Park, etc, etc, etc. MetroLink even provides Free Parking, how perfectly St Louis.

Matt Kastner said...

The "free parking will encourage people to drive" argument ignores the fact that people already drive everywhere in St. Louis as Brian said. I for one, live on the South Side and have no easy access to Metrolink. I can either drive to Union Station in 5 minutes or take an hour on the dirty creepy bus that occasionally passes by my place. Build a mass-transit system that has access options throughout the area then we can talk. Since that isn't happening anytime soon, ignoring the 95% of the population that drives a car is pretty much a death knell for any business.

Just saying

Chris said...

Exactly, Matt. I just returned from Washington, DC. The real reason that Metro is successful is because traffic is so horrible. St. Louis does not have bad traffic, so it's SO much easier just to drive.

Speaking of Union Station, it needs to be converted into condos. The mall idea is a failure.

Jeffrey said...

Chris, I lived in DC for two years and the major reason the Metro succeeds is because it a) runs all the time (closes at 3 am on weekends) and b) goes everywhere. The major problems it has are mostly related to the fact that service can slow to once every 15 minutes at off-peak hours...which makes trips where you have to switch lines very frustrating.

Lessons for Metrolink...

Matt M. said...

Wow, transit bash fest from some unlikely names!

Come on guys!

If progressive urban minds don't invest in transit (take the bus whenever possible), then we won't get a better transit system.

You are correct about the elements that make transit a success. It IS too easy to drive places in St. Louis. That's why we need to be lobbying to make our roads extremely pedestrian friendly at the expense of cars.

But in the meantime, transit will never be anything but suburban in St. Louis unless people get over their fear/animosity towards the bus system. As someone who depended on the New Orleans bus system for over a year, and who has major experience with the STL system as well, I can tell you that the STL buses are perfectly fine!

For now, we need to see urbanists programming events at least every week to get people to take the bus. At the University of New Orleans, where I'm getting my master's, I met a lot of bus-reluctant folks as well. Through our student organization, we held a "Transit-Oriented Drinks" (TOD--get it?) event that was extremely popular. Transit pub crawls are fun and a great way to show people the usefulness of bus systems often deemed "inefficient".

Sure, they're not up to snuff yet, but how will they ever be without more support?

Anonymous said...

"But in the meantime, transit will never be anything but suburban in St. Louis unless people get over their fear/animosity towards the bus system."

^You are correct Matt M., the people here live by their preconceived notions of what the bus system is without experiencing it. I take the bus/metro every single day, and it does not take an hour to get from the South
side to Union Station, if you indeed live somewhere where you can drive there in 5 minutes. The buses are on time, for the most part, are I have never ridden on a "dirty, creepy" bus, and I take a lot of different routes.

Scott H said...

Union Station use to have great stores. That is no longer the case. As a resident of the CWE I can ride my bike to Union Station but honestly there is nothing there any longer that benefits me. How about Dierberg coming into downtown? More retail that benefits residents as well as tourists. Why can't tourist's and resident's needs be met by the shops at Union Station?