Laser light shows light up the St. Louis Union Station Hotel every evening. photo by Russ Wagner

Laser light shows light up the St. Louis Union Station Hotel every evening. photo by Russ Wagner

Vintage train travel evokes an atmosphere of retro sophistication, the clacking of wheels rolling over tracks, elegant club cars with linen-covered tables and plush chairs, and where the ultimate goal is less about the destination than the journey. That ode to yesteryear has emerged as one of the most comforting trends in alternative event venues.

One of the most recent to capitalize on that nostalgic environment is the St. Louis Union Station’s nine retrofitted train cars, housed under an open—air steel beam canopy soon to be transformed into an attractions park featuring food outlets, a 200” high observation wheel, light and fire shows, a fountain and an outdoor plaza. Already onsite is a Landry’s seafood restaurant and Hard Rock St. Louis.

On a recent trip to St. Louis with my train-fascinated husband, Russ, we were given a private tour of the four trains

Exterior of vintage train used for VIP reception or party experience. photo by Russ Wagner

Exterior of vintage train used for VIP reception or party experience. photo by Russ Wagner

being used for VIP corporate and social group excursions from the National Historic Landmark train station. The retrofitting of the nine trains is part of a $140-million renovation and restoration project by Lodging Hospitality Management, which took over the property in 2012. Since then, the company has invested another $40 million into the Union Station and its 539-room hotel, recently rebranded as the St. Louis Union Station Hotel, a DoubleTree by Hilton.

When the train park project is completed, the hotel’s 100,000-sf exhibition space, already the largest in Missouri according to Cameron Schoeffel, train events sales manager for the St. Louis Union Station Hotel, will have direct access to the park’s entertainment options and a short walk to the vintage trains.

St. Louis Union Station train shed as it currently looks. photo by Russ Wagner

St. Louis Union Station train shed as it currently looks. photo by Russ Wagner

St Louis projected train park

St Louis projected train park after expansion

A typical train event runs about three hours. “We use multiple train cars for receptions (320 max), executive meetings, or dinners, whether the trains are stationery or follow a loop around St. Louis,” says Schoeffel. There are two dome cars, the Silver Chalet (seats 34 but can hold 50 for reception) and the Southern Hospitality, with seating for 40. The Silver Chalet seats 34 (50, reception-style), The Silver Express seats 12 people (50, reception-style), and the Silver Shore seats 12, but can accommodate 30 for reception.

St Louis train club car. photo by Russ Wagner

St Louis train club car. photo by Russ Wagner

And if your Executives have a hankering for leap back into time, The Silver Lodge can be added as a sleeper car with 16 beds. Each car has AV capabilities and Food &Beverage options supplied by the hotel. Eventually, the five remaining trains will be used for public excursions.

Bar and lounge car. photo by Russ Wagner

Bar and lounge car. photo by Russ Wagner

St. Louis Union Station was the world’s largest and busiest railroad station when it was opened in 1894 by the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis. The three main areas designed by Theodore Links included the Headhouse, the Midway and the 11.5-acre train shed. The Headhouse originally housed a hotel and a Fred Harvey restaurant. As soon as I heard the latter, I could “see” Judy Garland in her puffy-sleeved, full-skirted long dress taking on the Wild West in her starring role for the Harvey Girls, a 1946 movie I’ve adored since my teens. I loved that movie nearly as much as hearing her sing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” in Meet Me In St. Louis.

While Russ couldn’t stop grinning like a boy receiving his first set of Lionel trains, I was mesmerized by the hotel’s restored and renovated Grand Hall, which now includes an award-winning 3-D projection mapping light show and a 65-foot-long bar.

12 laser light shows available to run across the 65-foot-high vaulted ceiling. photo by Russ Wagner

12 laser light shows available to run across the 65-foot-high vaulted ceiling. photo by Russ Wagner

Though the gold-leafed Grand Hall’s Romanesque arches, stained-glass windows, and 65-foot-high barrel-vaulted ceiling are stunning by themselves, I was stopped in my tracks (pun intended) when the lobby lights dimmed, and strobes of laser light and music danced across the ceiling and arches.

Beginning at 5 each evening, every hour on the hour, one of 12 synchronized laser light shows embellishes the already-ornate ceiling. Each show has its own musical soundtrack, explained Nancy Milton, co-owner of Insight PR St. Louis. “The light shows can initiate a conference, enhance a reception, or run throughout the conference.”

Original painting uncovered during $140 million renovation and restoration of the hotel and train park. photo by Russ Wagner

Original painting uncovered during $140 million renovation and restoration of the hotel and train park. photo by Russ Wagner

Schoeffel added, “Groups can select which light shows to use, some of which are narrated by St. Louis celebrities, but we will also help them to develop their own light show.”

www.stlouisunionstation.com

Insight@InsightRocks.com

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries. She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ILEA and MPI and is now serving on the 2015 – 2016 MPI Global advisory Board for The Meeting Professional Magazine. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.

 

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