On Monday, a brand new club for Amtrak passengers ticketed in Sleeping cars and Business class will officially open at Chicago’s Union Station. Dubbed the Metropolitan Lounge, the 13,500-square-foot facility is twice the size of the previous lounge and triples the number passengers it can serve. The two-story space features new street access to the taxi stand on Canal and a glassy staircase that allows natural light to also infiltrate the lower level. The Metropolitan Lounge also includes a new elevator and bathrooms with shower facilities — a feature that has been absent from the station for a number of years.
From a design and use standpoint, the Metropolitan Lounge is divided into four of five distinct "neighborhoods" to suit the various needs of different passengers. "It’s not all one design. In fact, it ranges from traditional, to transitional, to modern," explains architect Len Koroski of Goettsch Partners. "There’s an area geared more toward business travelers, there’s a family-friendly area with a play space in the rear, and an area with high-back seats for people using their phones or tablets. We also built some communal spots which could see a mixed group of riders watching a Cubs game, for instance."
The new Metropolitan Lounge is part of a larger $60 million initiative funded by Amtrak and federal capital grants to modernize the historic 1925 Beaux Arts civic structure and respond to a surging number of new riders. "Since 1990, Amtrak ridership at Union Station is 40% up," says Amtrak’s Marc Magliari. "The increase equates to one million additional riders per year. During that same time expectations have also changed. Back then passengers weren’t looking for wi-fi and charging stations. They weren’t even demanding air conditioning in every corner of the station. We have all of that now."
The relocation of the lounge to Union Station’s Headhouse Building not only allowed the addition of new passenger amenities, but also opened up room on the crowded concourse level for future reconfiguration. The goal is to move even more passenger services such as ticket windows up to the Headhouse to help further streamline the boarding process. Once rarely utilized by many commuters, the station’s soaring Great Hall is now seeing a healthy cross-traffic of Metra riders now headed not only east towards offices in the Loop, but westward to Chicago’s booming West Loop neighborhood. This trend is only expected to continue and grow.
Union’s massive 24,000-square-foot Great Hall is also getting some attention of its own. While technologically advanced back in the 1920s, the hall’s 18,000-square-foot skylight has battled decades of harsh weather and has seen countless band-aid like repairs reduce the amount of light reaching the interior. Goettsch has not only been involved in restoring the glass and flashings back their original dimensions, but has plans to eventually add a second high-performance glass cap over the existing panes to eliminate any future maintenance headaches.
Just off the Great Hall, work on the former Woman’s Lounge — now dubbed the Burlington Room in honor of the rail line — is also on-going. The heavily water-damaged room is undergoing major restoration which will see its colorful French block murals, plaster moldings, column capitals, and original chandeliers returned to their former glory. While the Great Hall was previously a popular rental venue for private events, the increased ridership means that it is no longer shut down. The aim of the Burlington Room restoration is to replace that lost event space. With an expected completion date of September or October of this year, the room will be able to accommodate roughly 280-290 guests.
- A Look at Union Station's Ambitious Restoration and Redevelopment Plans [Curbed Chicago]
- Chicago Transportation archives [Curbed Chicago]