By Astrid Zeppenfeld
When any new attractions are brought to a city, our industry gets very excited. After all, cool sights and attractions are the backbone of many meetings and events! So it is no wonder the hospitality industry is buzzing because of all the wonderful new renovations happening downtown at Union Station, already a popular spot for both local and international companies and organizations for business meetings, expos, galas, and other events. Even national associations, such as the National Black Nurses Association or the Music Library Association, have booked space at Union Station for their yearly events since its renovations in the Midway/property. 2019 has seen great additions to the old railway station which resembles a gorgeous fairy tale castle.
Due to its charming and elegant architecture, St. Louis’ beautiful Union Station rightfully deserves its spot among the most prominent elements of the city’s skyline. This National Historic Landmark in Downtown St. Louis first opened in 1894, and it very quickly became the busiest train terminal in the country. One could assume this was a big help in procuring the 1904 World’s Fair in the city. In 1903, it was expanded to accommodate many of the fair’s expected guests. Anyone looking at pictures of the 1904 World’s Fair will no doubt first see the giant ferris wheel that debuted a decade before in Chicago and was brought to St. Louis for the event.
How fitting then, to construct a new Wheel in St. Louis, within the historic landmark of Union Station! The Wheel has already redefined the skyline of St. Louis, offering 42 climate-controlled gondolas, and it includes a VIP gondola with club chairs. No matter what time of the year your next event at Union Station takes place, your guests have the opportunity to enjoy 15 minutes of breathtaking views, 20 miles in each direction.
1.6 million LEDs on the Wheel can be lit up in different colors and patterns – think marriage proposals or gender reveals. What a fantastic marketing tool! Imagine you are the meeting planner managing an event for your company’s new, exciting product launch. Clients and employees see the Wheel lit up with your company’s colors in the background, as the banquet takes place at Union Station – maybe in the majestic Grand Hall of the hotel or in the Vista of the brand new Aquarium. Then, your president approaches the front of the room to give a speech. The moment for the revelation of the new product name arrives… Now, you direct everyone’s attention towards the Wheel, which proudly displays your brand colors for effect… And then you deliver your message to your audience!
This is where your Union Station events and business meetings will become fully submerged; your attendees will feel as if they are in the ocean because they share a wall of their meeting room with the sharks. Especially when they receive an underwater message. Yes, you will be able to enhance your event with an up-to-30-minute presentation from inside the shark tank! Or you can book an otter encounter and spend a 20-minute break getting up-close and personal with the debutant otters. Fun and educational scavenger hunts can be organized and customized to your event as well.
The St. Louis Aquarium will boast roughly 8,000 square feet of event space, which can accommodate up to 220 guests for a banquet-style event in the 2,800 square-foot Ocean Midway area to 700 guests at a reception in the 6,483 square-foot Ocean Shore Gallery. You can purchase group tickets at a discounted rate so you and your attendees can really take advantage of everything the Aquarium can offer, such as admission after-hour, behind-the-scenes tours, and special visits from the curator. Cameron Schoeffel, Director of Sales & Marketing at St. Louis Aquarium and Wheel Park at Union Station, tells MM&E, “We are currently booking events from March 2020 on. Many meeting planners are interested in the new event space.”
Tina Nelson, Events Manager at the nonprofit agency Family Forward in St. Louis, is one of those planners. She tells MM&E, “We have held our annual Gala Fundraising Event – the Rocket Ball – at Union Station in the past and we are actually contracted to going back there again. We could not be happier there, as we feel Union Station is the best venue in town. Their ballrooms and midways are lovely. We are very excited about their new opportunities, with the aquarium and what that can bring for any bad weather. We might be able to do a cocktail reception in partnership with them, or an after-party. Everything Union Station has to offer; it just keeps getting better and better.” Nelson confirms the trend in our industry to make each meeting or event a new and unique experience. She desires, “To give our guests a new experience, something different that they have never had before, here in St. Louis.”
Historic New Attractions
If you’d like to pay homage to Union Station’s past as a train terminal, consider using the park’s train cars for breakout-sessions at your event. Each car can accommodate 25-50 of your attendees; 200 on the whole train. Don’t forget to pick up shakes from the Soda Fountain as you head out to the train – these hand-crafted sweet treats will be sure to delight your guests! They come in “boozy” and “freaky” varieties; the former is self-explanatory and the latter includes an appealing dessert treat, which is mounted to the already-yummy shake. If you prefer candy to shakes, just walk into the candy store area inside the restaurant to buy local favorites like Bissinger’s chocolates. Afterwards, you can head outside and expend some energy walking the minigolf course right next to the Wheel.
Alissa Zimmerman, Editor-in-chief at Shutter Magazine and event manager of the annual Shutterfest, has worked with Union Station for years to make Shutterfest happen. Shutterfest is “an UN-conference for people who love photography”. Zimmerman chooses Union Station for Shutterfest because, “It’s a photographer’s paradise; it’s got all of the unique architecture, the history, and it’s beautiful. So, the addition of these new attractions – the wheel, the aquarium – is only going to add to being photography-worthy and we will at least use them as a backdrop.” Shutterfest 2020 is already booked, and we are looking forward to seeing the finished photography with the new additions.
Make it a Destination
The St. Louis Aquarium and Wheel Park is truly an entertainment venue that will surely brighten anyone’s day; whether the purpose of your visit is a business meeting, a big corporate event, or a sunny weekend afternoon with the family. Todd Hotaling, Vice President of Revenue at Lodging Hospitality Management, knows that “there is definitely a trend towards combining necessary business trips with family time. The St. Louis Aquarium and Wheel Park is changing the offering of St. Louis to make the city even more of a destination.” So, bring your family to your next event at Union Station. Or, if you’re planning the meeting, invite your attendees to bring their families to play. Hotaling adds, “There is nowhere else in the country where you can go to get a fun, educational, and historical experience like St. Louis Union Station.” We have to agree.
Astrid Zeppenfeld is a writer and MM&E’s editor/business development manager from St. Louis.