Union Station put on track to renovation

If new renovation proposals for New Haven’s Union Station successfully pass, town residents and Yale students may begin their travels from a destination in and of itself.

Downtown expansion in New Haven is picking up speed as developers aim to remarket Union Station as the center of a “transit-oriented development district.” In what city Director of Transportation, Traffic & Parking Michael Piscitelli called a “really big step,” the city parking authority and state Department of Transportation will work together to renovate Union Station with a focus on immediate relief of the area’s parking crunch. The plans will also make space available for retailers.

In November, Piscitelli said, the city and the DOT selected consultant Jones Lang LaSalle to research and plan the development along with Herbert S. Newman and Partners PC — a real estate and money management firm that has undertaken renovations of Grand Central Station in New York City and Union Station in Washington, D.C., among others.

Piscitelli said plans for a second parking garage at Union Station have been on the table for five years but, he added, “now is exactly the time” for concrete progress.

The New Haven Parking Authority and DOT can offer revenue bonds to fund the project, he said — which is roughly estimated at an overall cost of more than $200 million, according to the consultants — thus not passing a tax burden on to city residents. The revenue from ticket fares and parking fees will go toward paying for the station, he said.

The consultant’s report projects an annual revenue of $2,800 per added parking space.

Despite original plans to build a single additional parking garage adjacent to the existing 878-space garage at the station, consultants at Jones Lang LaSalle suggested an expansive three-phase proposal that would not only add parking to Union Station, but also restaurants, retail, apartments and a health club.

The renovations, according to Jones Lang LaSalle project leader Cubie Dawson, would take place in segments projected for completion by 2017.

Phase 1, which has a projected cost of $44 million, would serve to immediately alleviate the parking congestion at the station by creating a 667-space garage on the south end of the station along with mixed-use development of Union Station itself. After garnering the necessary approvals and planning, construction could begin as soon as 2009, according to the PowerPoint.

“The current garage is 90 percent occupied everyday,” Dawson said, citing the need for an immediate solution.

Phase 2 would add a second 530-space commuter garage at the north end of the station, along with 14,000 square feet of retail frontage with significant private market potential. This phase is projected at $24.8 million and would begin construction in 2011.

Although University Properties Director of Marketing Shana Schneider ’00 said Yale does not have a role in the development plans, Dawson said he would welcome the involvement of the University.

Phase 3, projected to begin in 2013, would add a “residential liner” building featuring retail office space, along with 138 units of loft apartments. The development carries a $140 million price tag.

Although the immediate catalyst for the project was the parking demand, Dawson said that the long-term goal is “transit-oriented development,” an initiative to re-energize communities within walking distance of a public transit facility.

“It’s about improved quality of life,” Dawson said. “It’s about needing to have an energized streetscape. There will be more lights on, more people, better landscaping. These are the things that will improve circulation in the area.”

Writing in an e-mail in his capacity as chair of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, Michael Morand, who is also associate vice president of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, said he and the chamber strongly welcome the “essential” developments and the city and state governments’ cooperation on the project.

But many students questioned remained skeptical about how much they would utilize the new developments.

“Even once the full renovations are made, I don’t think it will change how often I use the station,” Eric Tsytsylin ’10 said. “I wouldn’t go out of my way to go there.”

But he said he was happy and impressed the city and state are taking steps to improve that area of the city.

Some students and residents suggested an improved bike route between the Green and the station, a shuttle service or investing money into improving the trains themselves.

After passing a “feasibility study,” the plans for renovation await approval by the DOT at the commissioner’s level, the New Haven Board of Aldermen and state officials, Piscitelli said.

Comments

  • Nic

    Yeah, this would be a great idea if they addressed a few other things too:

    (1) Train service to New York is still absurdly slow and on gross trains

    (2) Union station is so far from the center of town and it's in a pretty run-down and dangerous neighborhood. They would need to improve the connection to downtown (light rail?) and majorly improve safety in the neighborhood of the station itself.

  • comment

    They're only getting around to this now? When I went to Y in the late '80s there was already a great need to do something about Union Station. I believe some renovations were done at some point, but nothing was done to address its isolation in a bad neighborhood and the lack of any reliable transport link to the main part of town. (There were very occasional buses, but most of the time you were hog-tied to taking a cab.) If something could be developed around there to create a safe "corridor" to the Green, that would help; at least people wouldn't mind walking so much.