By Kevin Collison
“Dinosaur Road Trip,” Union Station’s new exhibition, is a fun, kitschy blend of dinosaurs, roadside attractions and corny 1950s Godzilla movies, but before you hit the hokey highway, the ramp was bumpy.
Like other Kansas City cultural institutions hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, Union Station was in dire straits after being forced to shut down in mid-March.
“The day we closed was the day we were going to open our new $8 million children’s museum,” said George Guastello, Union Station president and CEO.
“We had to close the Genghis Khan exhibit and we started talking with our partners in Europe about the Vikings exhibition that was to open June 15.”
During the next 14 weeks after closing, Guastello estimated Union Station lost $1 million in revenues from vanished ticket sales, rental income and other sources. Thirty employees were laid off permanently in mid-June, and the remaining staff took pay cuts or freezes.
Faced with an estimated $500,000 loss if they opened the Vikings show because of the pandemic, Union Station decided to postpone. The Norwegian exhibitors kept the $250,000 deposit and agreed to reschedule the show for 2022.
Adding to its woes, the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, facing the same Covid crisis, canceled what would have been the first national showing of the animatronic dinosaurs show Union Station had created in 2018 for its “Dinosaurs Revealed” show.
Union Station wanted to reopen and stem the financial bleeding, but it was faced with having no attraction to draw people to visit and patronize its businesses.
That was how Dinosaur Road Trip was hatched.
“We were going to take a real hit and we decided not to go down without fighting,” Guastello said. “We realized we already had the dinosaurs here, they hadn’t left for Pittsburgh.
“We thought, what do families want to do during the summer? We realized a road trip was what people want. That’s it!”
The month leading up to the new exhibition’s opening last week was a frenzied rush of brainstorming by the Union Station staff and the Canadian designers of the animatronic dinosaurs.
Guastello loved old B movies about dinosaurs from the Fifties and Sixties like Godzilla and One Million Years B.C. with Raquel Welch as a cavewoman battling colossal beasts.
Someone else threw in the idea of odd roadside attractions like the world’s biggest ball of twine and prairie dog.
The road trip built on the romance of Route 66, but took a lot of detours that take visitors from Seattle to LA, onto St. Louis, Nashville and Memphis, and then Washington with the grand finale featuring T. Rex striding through Times Square in New York.
The whole endeavor was put together on a $200,000 budget. With a price of $10 per ticket, Guastello said it will break even with 20,000 visitors and hopefully do much more by the time it ends in January.
Guests will encounter 26 life-size animatronic dinosaurs and stops in 18 different states with 15 roadside attractions including the world’s largest cowboy boots to the Jolly Green Giant himself.
Throughout exhibit, big screen projections of the old black-and-white prehistoric monster movies serve as backdrops to both the dinosaurs and the roadside attractions, offering a fun multi-dimensional element.
“We know families are looking for ways to get out of the house, possibly even looking to hit the road themselves and this exhibit allows them to have that epic road trip experience without having to drive across the country,” Guastello said.
Care has been made to minimize the risk of Covid infection.
Visitors must wear masks, all tickets are timed with a limited capacity per hour. No long lines nor big crowds. The exhibit is laid out to operate with safe social distancing in mind.
Since it opened last Friday, the exhibition has drawn 1,200 people. It’s also been driving more business to the restaurants and other concessionaires at Union Station.
“It’s simply not business as usual,” Guastello, said. “We’ve worked hard to think outside the box when it comes to content delivery and providing safe, confident experiences.
“Now more than ever, we need the community to support us. A fun, affordable escape like Dinosaur Road Trip is a winning combination.”
Hours and prices:
July 3rd – January 6th: Wednesday – Sunday: 9 am – 5 pm* (Last ticket sold at 4 pm. Closed Monday & Tuesday) *Subject schedule to change.
July 3rd – 31st: $10 for everyone including members
August – January 6th:
Member Price: $10 General Admission: $12
Groups: Adult – $8 Child – $8 (Available for groups of 15 or more)
NOTE: A $1.25 preservation fee is added to each ticket.
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