Committee: Union Terminal renovations on time, on budget

CINCINNATI — Here’s a preview of what the Hamilton County Commissioners will hear about the taxpayer-funded renovation of Union Terminal next week: It’s should be on schedule, on budget, and the final design plans are good to go.

The Union Terminal Restoration Advisory Committee will provide the commissioners with a project update Monday, and will recommend that the building plans be given final approval to move forward. That approval could come Wednesday, Sept. 14., two days after the presentation.

The $212 million renovation is scheduled to be completed in Fall 2018, according to a project update presented at this week's UTRAC meeting. The total project price includes $156 million for construction costs.

Surveying of both the interior and exterior of the 500,000 square-foot building has been completed, and demolition of portions of the interior is already underway. The restoration of the building is scheduled to begin in earnest this fall.

The renovation of Union Terminal will include historic preservation of both the interior and exterior, upgrades to the Losantiville Dining Room, a full cleaning of the rotunda and other areas, and expanded exhibit space. Bathrooms and plumbing fixtures throughout the building will be upgraded.

“On the interior side of the equation, what we have finished looking at over the last year are ways to improve circulation for the visitor experience,” said Elizabeth Pierce, president and CEO of the Cincinnati Museum Center. “What our consumers will be most surprised by is new ways to access portions of the building that were previously more circuitous to get to. There will be additional elevators added to help people move around the building more smoothly.”

The renovation will also include the restoration of the Newsreel Theater, where train travelers once went to be entertained during layovers.

“I think it’s exciting to have the Newsreel Theater coming back online, because it’s a beautiful space and one that people really haven’t been in regularly in probably the last 15 or 20 years,” Pierce said.

UTRAC has already secured $21million in federal grant dollars, but failed to secure more than $3 million in state historic tax credits in the most recent round of awards. UTRAC has already re-applied and expects to hear from the state in December.

The bulk of the funding for the project comes from a five-year, 0.25-percent sales tax increase that voters approved in November 2014. The tax levy has outpaced revenue projections every month since it’s been enacted, generating an average of well over $3 million per month. The tax levy was originally projected to generate about $172 million.

“We’re confident that overall, we’ll have the $212 million we’ll need to do the project,” said Museum Center CFO Jill Berkemeier.

Visitors won't be able to see the Holiday Trains display at Union Terminal this year as renovations will be ongoing.

Duke Energy’s annual holiday train display, Holiday Junction, won’t take place this year because of construction, Pierce said. She was unsure about the status of the Christmas tradition for 2017. 

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