Published November 5th, 2021 at 7:00 AM
Union Station has hit the donor jackpot with a $5 million gift from the Sunderland Foundation, a windfall that will greatly enhance the grand building restored with the help of area voters in 1999.
“It’s the largest single gift we’ve received since reopening as a donor gift,” said George Guastello, Union Station president and CEO.
“We’ve had sponsorships, but for strictly going toward the preservation of the building it would be the largest.”
While other large donations have been given to the landmark passenger station that opened in 1914 as the third largest in the nation, they’ve been dedicated to specific projects such as Science City and the Haverty Family Yards.
Guastello said the Sunderland donation will be used for a wide range of Union Station improvements, including diamond-polishing the granite and marble floors, repairing its ornate ceiling and completely overhauling its restrooms.
“Anything affecting the customer experience will be done,” he said.
Generally, Union Station has to rely on revenues generated by its exhibitions to fund those types of maintenance and preservation projects. The $5 million donation will substantially augment and accelerate that work.
In recent years, the Sunderland Foundation has become a major force in Kansas City area philanthropy. The foundation was established in 1945 by Lester T. Sunderland, president of Ash Grove Cement Co., and continued by his sons, Paul and Allen.
The foundation assets were comprised primarily of shares in the cement company, which was led by four generations of the Sunderland family until 2018, according to the foundation website. It was sold that year to CRH plc of Dublin, Ireland, for $3.5 billion.
Three years ago, the Sunderland Foundation contributed $75 million to to help build the Children’s Research Institute at Children’s Mercy Hospital. The Hall Family Foundation also contributed $75 million to the project.
The foundation focuses on supporting “places and spaces where nonprofits do their work,” according to a release accompanying the donation.
“The Sunderland Foundation is proud to be a longtime supporter of Union Station and its commitment to generations of Kansas Citians,” Randy Vance, president and COO of the foundation, said in a statement.
“This is an investment in our community and in the physical place in which so many of us have built a lifetime of memories … We are pleased to help ensure that welcome includes a carefully preserved, restored and beautifully maintained physical presence.”
Guastello estimated that with the new donation, the Sunderland Foundation has contributed $7 million over the past few years to Union Station.
The new donation will allow Union Station to completely renovate its restrooms, a project that will restore their quartzite marble walls, create a large, shared hand-washing area and also create a hallway mural with images of the station’s washrooms through its history.
Work already has been completed diamond-polishing the granite and marble floors of the Grand North Festival Plaza, the former passenger waiting area, to a sheen not seen since the station opened a century ago.
On a more contemporary note, another project will include repairing the leaky roof of the elevated, enclosed link between Union Station and Crown Center, and replace its heating and cooling systems.
Guastello compared the Sunderland gift to the largesse of local donors who contributed approximately $100 million to help restore Union Station in the late 1990s.
The remainder of the $234 million project was financed by a special sales tax approved by voters on both sides of the state line in 1996.
“This is almost like what happened 20 years ago,” Guastello said. “This gift is something that preserves the beauty of the building and our customers will see it.”
Flatland contributor Kevin Collison is the founder of CityScene KC, an online source for downtown news and issues.