Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

DC Union Station, Master Plan etc.

The DC Amtrak Union Station Master Plan is having an open house tomorrow, where people can talk with people representing the various stakeholders--Amtrak, Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation, and Akridge--involved.

Wednesday, August 15 from 5:30pm-7:30pm
Union Station, Gate D (across from Starbucks)

According to the invitation:
This open house will give members of the public the opportunity to learn more about the Amtrak Union Station Master Plan and how it will affect the surrounding communities.  The plan will help guide the transportation capacity expansion needed to accommodate future growth for all the users of Union Station – intercity rail, bus, commuter, and high-speed rail, as well as local residents.
Note that this time and place, during peak railroad service for MARC, I can't think of worse conditions for a public meeting.

2.  Union Station Redevelopment Corporation released a press release yesterday that they have hired a new president.  This is a big deal, because for most of the past 15 years or so--the building reopened in 1988 with the new retail sections and appropriate for use for big galas--the people running Union Station haven't had much of a vision about the building, although in their defense, maybe they were just focused on ensuring that they could pay off the cost of the restoration.

The new president is Beverly Swaim-Staley, who most recently served as the Maryland Secretary of Transportation, but had other government jobs previously, including director of budget for Montgomery County.

I think that this appointment signifies that development and government interests want to make into reality the vision of the Union Station Master Plan.  From the press release:

One of Swaim-Staley’s primary responsibilities will be the development and implementation of a comprehensive Master Plan for Washington Union Station that will accommodate growth in rail travel, capitalize on new tourism and retail opportunities, and tie together nearby neighborhoods, making the station a hub of activity and welcoming center for the region. The plan will also help advance Amtrak’s plan for expanded and enhanced service in the Northeast Corridor and integrate with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, allowing easy access to and around the city. The renewed vision also incorporates a public- private partnership to build three million square feet of mixed-use development for Burnham Place.

Union Station is a landmark for the city, the region and the nation. To be a part of its ongoing development as a monumental gateway, national model transportation hub, and premier commercial and tourism destination will be rewarding as well as challenging,” said Beverley Swaim-Staley. “The opportunity to work with the board, our transit partners, and the community to realize the promise and potential of this wonderful historic structure is an honor.”

3.  If you're going (I have a competing engagement), you can ask Ashkenasy Acquisition Corporation why they keep pursuing a property tax exemption for the building.  Why would they have paid $160 million for an 84 year lease of the retail portion of the building if it doesn't generate enough money to be able to pay taxes, this for a building that yields some of the highest sales per square foot of any retail space in Washington, DC.  See the past blog entry, "76 year long property tax abatement proposed for Union Station."  And they like these kinds of assets so much, they spent $140 million for the lease for Faneuil Hall in Boston ("Faneuil Hall Marketplace makeover planned: new operator exploring options," Boston Globe).

4. Relatedly, the Federal Railroad Administration is holding an open house on the future of the Northeast Corridor, related to the master plan documents produced by Amtrak in 2010.

FRA Scoping package, Northeast Corridor Passenger Railroad Corridor Investment Plan

Washington DC Public Scoping and Open House
Washington, DC meeting: August 21, 2012
4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:30 p.m.)

Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments
777 N. Capitol St. NE
FRA Public Meetings on the NEC

From email:

NEC FUTURE is a comprehensive planning effort to define, evaluate and prioritize future investments in the Northeast Corridor (NEC), launched by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in February 2012. FRA's work will include new ideas and approaches to grow the region's intercity, commuter and freight rail services and an environmental evaluation of proposed transportation alternatives.

The NEC, the rail transportation spine of the Northeast region, is a key component of the region's transportation system and vital to its sustained economic growth. Today, the 457-mile NEC-anchored by Boston's South Station in the north, New York's Pennsylvania Station in the center, and Washington's Union Station in the south-is one of the most heavily traveled rail corridors in the world. The NEC is shared by intercity, commuter and freight operations and moves more than 259 million passengers and 14 million car-miles of freight per year.

While improvements continue to be made, the NEC faces serious challenges, with century-old infrastructure, outdated technology, and inadequate capacity to meet current or projected travel demand. With similar capacity issues on the region's highways, and some of the most congested airports in the nation, the Northeast's economic future could be hampered by transportation constraints.

Amtrak Union Station Master Plan
Northeast Corridor Infrastructure Master Plan
Amtrak Vision for the Northeast Corridor, 2012 Update Report

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