Tuesday, July 26, 2005


View from the Tower

When I first started visiting Kansas City in 1986, Union Station was a municipal embarrassment and the Liberty Memorial wasn't far behind. Recently a lot of money was spent to bring these two significant properties up to date.

The Liberty Memorial is the nation’s official World War I monument, but when I first saw it, it seemed on the verge of becoming a neglected ruin. $30 million was spent on renovation from 2000-2002, and once again it’s an appropriate memorial to the cataclysm that has now almost entirely slipped into history. The two buildings flanking the tower contain some interesting museum exhibits, and work is proceeding on an expanded museum located beneath the monument, with opening scheduled for 2006.

The tower is 217 feet tall and has an observation deck, with an elevator that gets visitors most of the way to the top. Sunday I decided to check out the view. Closest to the memorial is Union Station, which was a decrepit hulk when I first saw it in 1986. It took $250 million to renovate it in 1997-99. Some of the money went into construction of the attached Science City and theaters, but a big chunk of cash was necessary just to restore the old building to a usable condition. They did a great job on the restoration and I highly recommend a visit. But it’s a white elephant, utterly impractical. Here’s an instructive comment from the Mayor’s Union Station Task Force Report released three months ago:

During the first five years of operation, a great deal of effort was expended to achieve sustainable success but, subsequent performance clearly demonstrated that income generating expectations of Science City, the theaters and other attractions had been overly optimistic. In retrospect, the advice of a number of early consultants was flawed. The concept that the anchor attractions–in this case, Science City and an IWERKS theater—could fund the operations of the entire Union Station complex was wrong. In fact, the recent comparative study of similar venues around the country argues that permanent museum venues do well to break even financially on a standalone basis.

Oh well. I wonder how long it will be before it is an eyesore again.

Union Station at left, Crown Center at right, downtown in the background.


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