Union Station renovation underway

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Photo by Vivienne Zhang.

New Haven’s Union Station is getting a makeover.

Beginning last week, New Haven’s parking authority Park Haven began scaffolding for a renovation of Union Station that will cost approximately $2.3 million and be completed in December 2014. According to a Park Haven press release, the repairs will improve the station’s garage, facade, roof, windows and sidewalks. However, the renovation will not include fundamental changes to the railroad’s physical plant, which is dependent on a bill that is currently bottled up in Connecticut’s General Assembly.

Mayor Toni Harp said in a statement that she approves of the project’s timing, as well-maintained train station was essential to New Haven’s future prosperity.

“It is a goal of my administration to make Union Station the hub of a revitalized transportation and retail district — this exterior renovation project is consistent with and part of that plan,” she said. “A year or so from now, when this project is complete, one of New Haven’s architectural jewels will have been polished beautifully to attract, welcome and please all those who spend time in and around Union Station.”

Park Haven Executive Director David Panagore said the project is part of a “cycle of repairs” Park Haven is working on and that such repairs are not unprecedented. The renovations will make the station more technologically friendly — with chargers for cell phones and laptops, as well as new bike racks. Panagore called these updates badly needed.

“We’ve been working out with [the Connecticut Department of Transportation] for a couple of years and the building needs it,” he said. “It’s similar to the way we’re taking on elevators at the Crown Garage.”

Panagore added that the renovation would not affect existing rides in and out of the terminal, and that it will be funded entirely by revenues generated by the station’s adjacent parking garage.

Ten commuters at Union Station on Sunday endorsed the renovation, though none of them were familiar with the project.

Alfonso Perez, a security guard at Union Station, agreed that the project was minor and said it will not affect his job supervising the station’s day-to-day security.

Some urged the mayor and Park Haven to consider a blueprint that would fundamentally alter the station’s physical plant. Panagore said a bill currently stuck in the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee would create a “city-state partnership” designed to manage the extensive renovation. The resulting project would include expanded retail options and a second garage, according to Panagore. However, until this new governing structure is established, Panagore said the project would not proceed.

“There are plans … There’s a still a lot of negotiations and discussions going on with how we should proceed, but the general sense is that it should,” he said.

City Hall Communications Director Laurence Grotheer said Harp met with the New Haven delegation last week, but that the General Assembly is considering many bills only and there are only four and a half weeks remaining in the legislative session. Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, the city’s sole representative on the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, did not return multiple requests for comment.

On Yale’s campus, the news of the renovation was positively received, though many students expressed concerns about the station’s disconnect from both Yale’s campus and New Haven’s downtown.

Yusuf Saei LAW ’17, who has to go to Union Station about once a month, said he thinks the city suffered from Union Station’s distance from the center of downtown. He said expanding New Haven’s State Street Station, which is closer to the center of the city, would be a better use of resources.

“I used [State Street Station] once, but it seems like the [departure] times weren’t as convenient,” he said. “[State Street Station] would seem like a better place to stop off from — closer to campus, closer to downtown.”

Lauren Sanchez FES ’15, said Union Station’s infrastructure could be improved through making it easier for cars to turn into the pick-up and drop-off lane. Trying to turn left into it right now is currently a “debacle,” she said.

New Haven’s Union Station was constructed in 1920 and was previously rebuilt in 1985.

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