Sunday, April 6, 2003

Union Terminal is expensive gem

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Like many institutions, Cincinnati Museum Center's biggest asset - Union Terminal - is its biggest liability.

It costs $2.5 million annually for upkeep, on a budget of about $13 million. It could use another $2 million per year for general repairs - to fix the broken fountain out front is $2 million alone.

The Museum Center has $5 million in loans to cover last year's deficit and the anticipated $2 million deficit for this year.

Director Douglass McDonald takes out a key, walks down a long corridor, and unlocks a door. Behind it is an unbelievable sight: The railroad president's offices, a 1930s time capsule of fine wood and burled veneers, cozy fireplaces, leather chairs with cigar holders, and art deco details.

Beyond the president's office is an expansive boardroom, with a broad view of the rail yards.

"You instantly understand what Union Terminal was all about: the history, the culture, the significance," he says.

He ponders a moment, and says, "We could do a lot more telling of the story of the railroad, and the commerce of the railroad. There are still 100 trains a day; it's one of the biggest freight yards in the country, and people in Cincinnati have no idea how much commerce is taking place back here."

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