I have had the good fortune of experiencing some amazing things in my lifetime, and I can say without hesitation that snorkeling an ocean reef ranks at the top of the list. My first venture into the magical and almost incomprehensible world of undersea life is decades behind me now, but I was awe-struck then and the sense of wonder I felt left a lasting impression.
These days, my close encounters with marine life tend to involve bait and a boat, but I am still fascinated by the notion that fish live out their lives completely unaware of the world that exists beyond the water’s edge. On the rare occasion that a fish finds itself on the end of my line, I imagine that for the fish, the experience of being caught, reeled aboard a boat and released back to the water must be the equivalent of a human being abducted by aliens. I acknowledge the strong possibility that my fascination might not be reciprocal. Maybe the fish don’t care at all about the who, what, where and how of what happens on land, but I’m certain I am not alone in my very human curiosity about what goes on in the world below the sea.
Here in St. Louis, the idea of developing a premiere marine-life attraction has been floating around for long time. Some of the country’s first tank exhibits made their appearance at the 1904 World’s Fair, and those of us who have been around awhile probably remember a scheme to establish a major aquarium feature as part of a master plan for the St. Louis river front that surfaced in the early ‘90s.
Like other big concepts that require a great deal of vision and commitment, this one has taken some time to materialize, but St. Louis-based Lodging Hospitality Management has finally made the long-held local dream a reality. The St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station will open in December with 44 exhibits and 130,000 animals representing 257 different species.
As you can imagine, building a two-story, 120,000-square-foot aquarium inside a National Historic Landmark structure dating back to 1894 presented some unique challenges. From demolition to site preparation to completion, St. Louis building companies large and small have contributed their expertise and creative genius to overcome those challenges and bring this project to fruition. We are pleased to bring you their story in this issue of St. Louis CNR.
When the doors open next month, visitors entering the aquarium lobby will be dazzled by a 14-foot-tall clock tank holding 10,500 gallons of water and a collection of colorful discus fish native to South America. Arched ceilings will add to guests’ sensation that they’re embarking on a train journey, especially as their ticket (which includes a specific “boarding” time) is called out and they enter simulated, life-size train cars to begin their tour of the aquarium.
The River Monster exhibit, designed and constructed to look like the ruins of a South American temple, will house enormous fish native to South American rivers and lakes. Not surprisingly, the Piranhas will be housed in their own separate exhibit.
No doubt one of the most talked-about experiences will be an exhibit known as Shark Canyon, which will house 60 sharks and rays. A walkway will lead visitors down below the 250,000-gallon tank, some 18 feet deep at its deepest point, for a close-encounter moment with schools of sharks swimming all around and directly over their heads. I can’t wait to check it out and I am excited to think that with the opening of the St. Louis Aquarium, I won’t have to don flippers and a snorkel to hang out with the fish on their own turf. I wonder if the aquarium’s residents will be as impressed as we are by the genius that went into creating their new home.
P.S. As we close out our 50th year of publication, I want to take a moment to thank our readers, our advertisers and the countless individuals whose professionalism and dedication have enriched and strengthened the St. Louis construction industry over the years. On behalf of the entire St. Louis CNR team, it is an honor to serve you and we’re grateful for your continued support of our endeavors.