Union Station finished out a second year with an operating surplus, underscoring the financial turnaround for the historic depot that was on the brink of disaster as recently as 2009.
The station ended 2011 with a net operating surplus of $3.25 million before depreciation, and revenues were ahead of budget in every area except for the KC Rail Experience museum, according to figures presented Wednesday.
The year’s success was attributed largely to the popularity — and gift shop sales — of the Princess Diana exhibit and to rent payments from tenants such as the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and the Internal Revenue Service.
Some feared that Union Station’s emphasis on maximizing leasing opportunities would turn it into a dull landlord. But officials pointed to the energy created by the city’s first Maker Faire, the Battle of the Brains and the return of a New Year’s Eve party.
“We are more than an office park,” said station CEO George Guastello. “We are a civic center.”
In addition to leases, station management’s business model calls for aggressively containing costs, outsourcing services and not staging money-losing exhibits or programs.
The recent “America I AM” exhibit about black contributions to American history did lose money, but officials said it was an important exhibit for the community and it fit the station’s mission.
“It helped solidify the relationship between the black community and Union Station,” said Mike Haverty, chairman of the station’s board.
Station officials are looking forward to a Titanic exhibit that opens March 3 and runs all summer, as well as to significant additions to Science City.
Union Station’s new financial stability enabled it to spend about $500,000 on deferred maintenance and improvements last year. The 2012 budget calls for adding another half-million for building operations and maintenance.
Station officials also want to continue to develop a complementary relationship with Crown Center, which will open an aquarium and a Legoland attraction this year.