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Train Station Conversions: A Tale of 4 Cities

July 21, 2002

Kansas City, Mo.: Built in 1914, Union Station lost much of its passenger train service, then its commercial tenants, then closed altogether in the late 1980s. After years of fizzled redevelopment efforts, a public-private partnership launched a revival effort with the Kansas City Museum's Science City as a centerpiece. Since the reopening in 1999, results have been mixed. In December, the Kansas City Star reported that the Science City museum's attendance was running at about half of the 800,000 projected annual visitors.

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Tacoma, Wash.: Built in 1911, this city's Romanesque-style Union Station was refurbished in 1990, and then converted into a courthouse enlivened by a 98-foot-high rotunda and glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly. Neighboring warehouses were converted into a new campus by the University of Washington, which has spent an estimated $112 million on land and construction, with another $41 million expected in a new phase. Nearby are the Washington State History Museum (opened in 1996), the $63-million Museum of Glass, which opened earlier this month, and the building site of the new Tacoma Art Museum, expected to open in 2003.

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Indianapolis: The 1888 Union Station terminal, built in elaborate Romanesque Revival style, closed in 1979. It reopened as a mall in 1986 after a $50-million make-over paid for by public and private money. But by 1997, the doors were closed again. In the most recent bid at revival, the mall's disparate tenant list includes a go-cart business and an alternative school.

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Washington, D.C.: Completed in 1908, this Union Station is a Beaux-Arts design of massive size. Its usage dwindled in the 1960s, prompting a plan to revive it as a National Visitor Center. The plan was a bust, and the station closed in 1978. Its deliverance didn't come until 1988, when workers finished a $160-million effort to convert much of the vast building into a mall. The station reports more than 23 million visitors yearly.

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