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A Giant Ferris Wheel Will Soon Rise Above Union Station

Architectural illustration of the St. Louis Wheel, which will be built at the Union Station entertainment complex. St. Louis Aquarium
St. Louis Aquarium
Architectural Illustration of the St. Louis Wheel, which will be built at the Union Station entertainment complex.

Construction will soon begin on a 200-foot observation wheel that will loom large over Union Station and provide sweeping views of the city.

The St. Louis Wheel, with 42 enclosed gondolas, will be among the first attractions to open this fall at the $187 million family entertainment center being built by Lodging Hospitality Management in the historic train shed.

The development’s centerpiece — a two-story aquarium featuring sharks and other water species — will open by the end of the year, company president Steve O’Loughlin said.

St. Louis Aquarium will house sharks and aquatic animals from around the world.
Credit St. Louis Aquarium
The St. Louis Aquarium will house sharks and aquatic animals from around the world.

“The observation wheel will start to take shape in May and June,’’ O’Loughlin said during a recent tour of the site. “I think by August you’re going to see it fully constructed.’’

The giant Ferris wheel will be an attention-getter, with glitzy lights that can be themed to holidays, or turned red or blue to support the St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Blues. The wheel will be the same height as the Centennial Wheel at Chicago’s Navy Pier.

The proposed Major League Soccer stadium would be built next to Union Station, adding to the excitement in west downtown that O’Loughlin hopes to generate with his aquarium project.

“We're excited to be a part of the renaissance of St. Louis,’’ he said, noting the recent refurbishment of the Gateway Arch grounds and projects like Ballpark Village and the Chouteau Greenway.

The first phase of the aquarium center — including three restaurants, a ropes course and mirror maze — will open by mid-November, O’Loughlin said.

He hopes to attract 1 million visitors a year to Union Station by catering to families and tourists.

“There are 3 million people that go to the Cardinals games, and while they're in town, they hit the Arch and Six Flags,’’ he said. “We want to be a component of that, as well.’’

Construction on the 120,000-square-foot aquarium began in November 2017. The aquarium’s infrastructure is now in place, including miles of pipe and aquatic concrete used for water exhibits.

The aquarium will include a 250,000-gallon saltwater environment for sharks and rays. There will also be fresh-water exhibits highlighting the Mississippi and Missouri rivers habitats.

The plan will be the third incarnation for the train shed, which is a National Historic Landmark.

Union Station opened in 1894. The last train left the station in 1978 when Amtrak relocated. Union Station remained closed until 1985, when a Baltimore company renovated the structure and opened a festival marketplace.

LHM bought Union Station in 2012 and has already renovated the Grand Hall, guest rooms and meeting spaces.

Follow Mary Delach Leonard on Twitter: @Marydleonard

The infrastructure of the St. Louis Aquarium which is being built in the historic train shed of Union Station.
Credit Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio
The infrastructure of the St. Louis Aquarium, which is being built in the historic train shed at Union Station.

Follow Mary on Twitter @MaryDLeonard

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.