Union Station on Wednesday unveiled plans to erect a new bridge linking Pershing Road to the rear parking structure and to pump life into the barren space outside Science City.
Officials hope to accomplish that by using $5 million in Missouri tax credits to leverage $10.7 million in private investment.
A City Council committee endorsed the tax-credit plan Wednesday, and the matter goes before the full council today. The city must approve any application to the Missouri Development Finance Board, which next meets on Nov. 20.
The three-year plan is part of an effort to transform Science City into the "science center of tomorrow," possibly with a new name.
The physical improvements would complement a blueprint developed last year for continuing improvements to the science museum, which has benefited from nearly $2 million in private investments since 2008.
"This begins to put the flesh on the bones" of that blueprint, said Union Station Chief Executive George Guastello.
Guastello and lawyer Jerry Riffel, who is representing Union Station, said the historic depot has already received pledges from corporations and other potential donors should the tax credits be approved. The program allows contributors to deduct 50 percent of their donations to approved projects from their state taxes.
The Kansas City Council has already submitted an application for $5 million in development tax credits for a parking garage and student housing at 27th Street and Troost Avenue in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. That would remain the city's top priority. But the Union Station project would be the city's second choice, and would become the top priority for 2013 if the Beacon Hill project is approved.
But some state leaders, including Gov. Jay Nixon, have called for reworking the tax-credit system to reduce the cost to the state.
The most striking part of the plan envisioned by Union Station would make access to the parking garage more convenient for visitors, tenants and Amtrak passengers.
It calls for a $4 million automobile and pedestrian bridge from the west side of Union Station, near the Post Office, to the third level of the existing parking structure. That would eliminate the need to drive farther west and down a ramp to reach the garage, which can be confusing to visitors.
Guastello said the concrete at the station's west portico is not historic, so building the bridge would not violate preservation protocols.
The bridge also would provide pedestrian access from the garage to the main level of Union Station.
The plan calls for turning the open space between the garage and the planetarium into an "events plaza" more similar to Crown Center's open space. It would include a stage, a school bus drop-off loop, a display of historic rail cars and a new connection to the pedestrian bridge to the Freight House and Crossroads districts.
A 2,800-square-foot indoor-outdoor "lunchroom" for students would be grafted onto the lower level of Union Station outside the recently upgraded planetarium. It could also be used for other gatherings and functions.
Inside, a "space portal" meant to resemble a futuristic space station would connect Science City to the planetarium and a 3D theater scheduled to open early next year.
The former Extreme Screen theater is being fitted with a new stage, screen and projection system. The auditorium will be able to show educational as well as first-run movies and serve as a high-tech teleconferencing center and a platform for entrepreneurs.
Union Station officials say all of the proposed improvements would support education in science, technology, engineering and math. Local engineering firm Burns & McDonnell's foundation has invested well over $1.25 million in Science City in recent years, including Science on a Sphere, which opened early this year, and the Battle of the Brains competition, which will result in the opening in January of a new exhibit designed by Olathe high school students.
Promotional materials for Union Station's tax-credit proposals refer to the "KC Science Center" as opposed to Science City, and Guastello acknowledged that officials are thinking of rebranding the science museum, which still carries a reputation of disappointment from earlier years. Science City opened in 1999 as part of the restored Union Station, which itself benefited from state tax credits as well as a historic bistate sales tax.
The new proposals also include a $2 million endowment for the station.
Officials say they are able to concentrate on the science museum after having stabilized Union Station's finances. Union Station Kansas City Inc., the nonprofit corporation that operates the property, expects to end this year in the black for the third time.