When Union Station was being built they wired it for electricity. A century later, the huge structure has been fitted for the digital age — with more than a mile and a half of fiberoptic cable.
The entire public space of Union Station is now “hot” with free Wi-Fi, which is expected to be an asset for business while allowing people to access the Internet without sapping their data plans.
“There are so many events there, and people like to use their phones to listen to music, to look up data,” said Perry Watson, area vice president of operations for Time Warner Cable, which installed the Wi-Fi service at its own cost. “Anytime you make it Wi-Fi-enabled, it just makes it a richer experience. We think it’s great for Kansas City.”
It is also good for Time Warner because it helps to attract and retain customers. Spokesman Michael Pedelty said it is difficult to quantify the dollar amount of the investment because the company leveraged its resources and existing infrastructure.
It has taken nine months to plan and install the Wi-Fi capability, including more than 1,300 man-hours. The fiber had to be incorporated into the structure without being visible or compromising the station’s historic integrity.
Union Station is the largest indoor Wi-Fi project locally for the cable company, which has created about 1,100 hot spots throughout the Kansas City area.
Areas of Union Station have had Wi-Fi before, but now the entire space is enabled, from Harvey’s restaurant to Science City. Time Warner customers with standard Internet service or above can connect for free, and noncustomers can access it for up to two hours daily for free.
“The investment by Time Warner Cable now sets infrastructure in place for Union Station to be the crossroads where science, innovation and culture intersect,” Union Station CEO George Guastello said in a statement.
The ubiquitous Wi-Fi connection complements the creation last year of a digital business center in Union Station’s Extreme Screen theater.
The latest step is welcomed by economic development organizations that are tenants at Union Station, including the Kansas City Area Development Council and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s great to take this 100-year-old building and bring in executives from around the country and surround them with the latest technology,” said Bob Marcusse, president and CEO of the development council. “It helps us amp up our game.”
Marcusse said Union Station and the surrounding neighborhood “is pretty fast becoming a real center of entrepreneurialism and technology and innovation. One hundred years ago you created commerce by building railroad tracks and later you built highways. Now it’s all about digital infrastructure.”