Published April 21st, 2023 at 11:30 AM3 minute read
By Kevin Collison
It’s showtime at Union Station with the upcoming NFL Draft and its top executive George Guastello is ecstatic millions of television viewers from around the nation will see Kansas City’s most beloved landmark.
“When you talk to the NFL, they have never done a draft this size in front of a historic monument, in fact, two historic monuments (Liberty Memorial),” Guastello said.
“The front of the building will now be the back of that stage for 50 million people. Virtually, we’re going to be all over the world.”
Guastello, a bit of a showman himself, proclaimed the only way the NFL could top Union Station is perhaps staging the draft in front of the Washington Monument or Statue of Liberty.
“This is the Oscars meets the Met Ball meets the Super Bowl,” he said.
Guastello, who has led Union Station since 2008, was seated on the upper level of Harvey’s.
Above, riggers were installing panels of LED lights in the three big front windows of Union Station that will display the action in the draft and on stage during the event.
Outside, work was well underway on completing a massive stage with a floor larger than a football field including end zones and 95 feet tall.
During the event, the lobby and concourse of Union Station will be a staging area, the green room, for players and their families.
The board room of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce will serve as the operations center for the media and NFL staff. More than 130 news organizations have been accredited for the event.
Catering for the VIPs, NFL staff, players and their families at event will be provided by the Brancato’s, the owner of Harvey’s, and Pierponts and Parisi Coffee. That business should help make up for lost revenues while the building is closed to the public.
The NFL has been hyper-vigilant about security, installing additional surveillance cameras, erecting 7.1 miles of fencing around the property from 20th to 31st streets, Pershing to Grand as well as 1.5 miles of concrete barriers.
The bridge connecting Union Station to the Crossroads will be closed as well as the Link to Crown Center. Amtrak will be operating out of a temporary facility on the Union Station campus and the streetcar will only travel as far south as the Crossroads station.
Science City and the Planetarium will close this Monday through the following Monday, May 1. One major office tenant, the KC Area Development Council, already has relocated temporarily to Burns & McDonnell. The KC Chamber staff will operate from home.
The movie theater will show its last screening of the Super Mario Brothers Tuesday night and reopen May 1. After that last showing Tuesday, the entire building closes to the public and will be taken over by the NFL Draft.
“This is a television show, concert and Lollapalooza all built into one,” Guastello said.
He said when the newly-drafted football players hear their name called, their first experience will be a show stopper.
“They get on the stage and then they walk out and see the most magnificent vista looking at Liberty Memorial,” he said.
This giant party is the fruit of a civic effort that began in 1996 when citizens on both sides of the state line voted for a sales tax to restore Union Station at a cost of $234 million.
The huge building designed by renowned architect Jarvis Hunt was the pride of Kansas City when it opened in 1914. Its fortunes rose and fell with the American passenger rail industry, which began its decline after World War II.
Union Station reached its low point in 1983 when the once magnificent lobby was closed and Amtrak erected a plastic bubble within it to serve as a waiting room to protect passengers from the leaky ceiling and falling plaster.
After the its major renovation, it again became a centerpiece of the metropolitan area. Last year, it was named one of the 37 most beautiful train stations in the world by Architectural Digest, a respected international publication.
Guastello said Union Station’s beauty and experience handling big events in recent years was its chief selling point.
The Royals celebrated their 2015 World Series win, the Chiefs have celebrated their Super Bowl wins, a huge light show was staged on its facade for its 100th anniversary and even the American Ninja Warriors reality show telecast competition there in 2015.
“This turned out to be what everybody wanted it to be, the visual voice of Kansas City,” Guastello said.
“When we pitched this five years ago thanks to (KC Sports Commission president and CEO) Kathy Nelson…they just brought me in to say this is the building where it should be.”