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With the end of Bodies Revealed, Kansas City’s troubled Union Station faces another uncertain future



It's still spring, and tickets are selling strong for the Bodies Revealed exhibit in the bowels of Union Station.

On this late-April Saturday, the parents of two children — one boy and one girl — are picking up their exhibit tickets at the box office. Next to them, a woman paces in front of the ticket windows; some in her group weren't able to make it, and she's giving away a free pair.

The family enters the exhibit, seeing for themselves the plasticized corpses flaunted for months on banners and billboards and in newspaper ads. They seem as interested and excited as all the other patrons walking around the glass cases full of bones, past the once-living men and women frozen in athletic motion and flayed to the muscle tissue. They wander through the room that shows the circulatory system and on to the respiratory room, with its cancerous lung and its Plexiglas box filled a foot high with discarded cigarette boxes. Finally they come to the cadavers of pregnant women and the bodies sliced into dozens of sections suspended inches from one another, so that a man less than six feet tall when alive now stretches close to 20 feet long. The family spends time at each information card, the parents taking turns reading to their kids, who both look younger than 10. They make jokes and seem to be having a good time.

It's exactly the type of educational family experience that Andi Udris, Union Station's CEO and president, says the place is supposed to foster.

When these visitors are finished at Bodies, they don't pause in the gift shop, though the boy's eyes widen at boxes of plastic miniature replicas of the skulls and intestines they've just seen. They don't stop at any of Union Station's restaurants for lunch, though the Bistro at Union Station and the Harvey House Diner are reasonably priced and, at the moment, equally without a glut of customers. Instead, the family walks straight out of the building and back to the parking garage without leaving behind another dime.

Two floors above the exhibit, a middle-aged waitress is attending to no one at the Harvey House. She stands behind the long, rectangular counter, next to a rotating display of pies. Down one end of the counter is a single man with a cane resting against a neighboring stool, eating a cheeseburger. Behind her, another solitary customer reads the paper and drinks a cup of coffee. All but two booths are empty.

"It's not too busy lately," the waitress says. "Mostly the rushes come when people are on their lunch break, but that's never too bad. Usually it's pretty quiet."

The problem with Union Station isn't that families who see Bodies Revealed leave without spending more money.

It's that those families are basically the only visitors the place gets anymore.

The man in charge of turning that around is Udris, who took over as head of Union Station in May 2005, succeeding interim CEO Sean O'Byrne, who served for 11 months after the resignation of Turner White in June 2004. White had been the station's director and CEO since it reopened in November 1999, renovated with revenues from a bistate tax devoted to saving the station. By the end of White's tenure, Science City attendance had been disappointing, philanthropic support had evaporated, the station was losing an estimated $5 million a year and the public had grown frustrated with what seemed like a constant stream of bad news about the finances of the beloved — but largely unused and crushingly expensive to operate — landmark.

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