Alders discuss future development of Union Station, proposal for new 35-year lease
The proposed agreement between New Haven and the state of Connecticut would pave the way for new retail and parking developments, while also uniting Union Station and State Street Station under the same management.
Vaibhav Sharma, Photo Editor
On Thursday night, the Board of Alders finance committee unanimously voted to favorably recommend a resolution that would approve a new 35-year partnership lease for Union Station between the City and Connecticut’s Department of Transportation.
The plans for the agreement were first announced in September 2020 through a letter of intent, according to Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli, with the goal of having the new lease take effect in July 2022. Since the initial announcement, negotiations have proceeded to finalize the language of the agreement that has now made its way to the Board of Alders.
Under the new lease, all revenue from Union Station will be reinvested directly back into the further development of the station, instead of being spread out among city and state projects, as it is currently. Further, the partnership is designed to encourage the development of increased retail and parking opportunities while also providing new oversight structures for both Union Station and the smaller State Street Station.
“This work will really transform Union Station, not just in terms of doing the physical improvements but … as a catalyst for the whole area,” City Plan Department Executive Director Aicha Woods said during a presentation at Thursday’s meeting. “It will be the welcoming point for visitors to New Haven, but I think also very much a destination and an asset for New Haven residents just to go visit the train station and enjoy the new retail offerings.”
At the meeting, city and state officials presented an outline of their vision for a revitalized Union Station to the alders present. The new three-pronged lease agreement received unanimous vote of approval from the committee, and it will soon move to the general Board of Alders, which will vote to give the project final approval.
The agreement consists of three separate documents, according to Piscitelli. Two are agreements between the city and state: a general Lease, Funding and Operating Agreement and a Capital Partnership Agreement detailing the specific future development projects that will occur at the station.
Lastly, the package under debate also includes a five-year subcontract with the New Haven Parking Authority. This deal gives the NHPA authority over operations both at Union Station and the nearby State Street Station, which NHPA Executive Director Doug Hausladen said will be a change from the current situation.
“State Street Station previously was managed by a private operator, and through the transition period will be switched under management of the partnership,” Hausladen said. “That’ll give the region, the city of New Haven and the downtown the opportunity to speak with one voice, and to talk to one operator … We think that that’s going to provide an increased level of service again for the customer.”
A central discussion at the meeting regarded the importance of centering Union Station as a commercial destination in the city, particularly through the expansion of business opportunities to accommodate the great increase in traffic the station has seen recently.
The agreement includes the goals of renovating the first floor of the station and transforming the basement and second floor into retail environments, for which Hausladen said officials hope to find tenants who will “highlight both New Haven and the Connecticut marketplace when it comes to showcasing what we offer as a region.”
It also contains a proposal for the construction of a new 600-space garage that, according to Piscitelli, would also have a front-facing component that would act as a commercial space bringing in revenue for the city.
Another priority in the new lease is improved accessibility for bicyclists and pedestrians. Hausladen shared plans to build networks of sidewalks and bike lanes to make access to and from the station easier, which he said is part of a larger agenda among city officials to reconnect the Downtown area.
Alders on the finance committee raised a number of questions regarding the function of Union Station as a source of new jobs for the city, voicing concerns about diversity and locality in the hiring process.
“One of the things that in the city we’ve really been working hard to … refill our pool of staff,” Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison said. “The pool of contractors, they’re getting older and especially with this 35-year contract. We want to make sure that we seize this opportunity to make sure that our young people also have an opportunity to have hands-on learning.”
Morrison suggested that language be inserted into the lease to set up an apprenticeship program to train future railway workers, as well as a commitment to prioritize small businesses and woman-owned companies in the contracting process.
However, Ward 25 Alder Adam Marchand ultimately recommended against making amendments to the agreement on the spot at Thursday’s meeting. He suggested instead that the Alders collaborate with city staff moving forward to discuss and incorporate certain changes before the reading to the full board.
With this in mind, Marchand spoke in favor of the agreement at hand, remarking that the arrangements seemed strong in their ability to ensure that Union Station and State Street Station are both “thriving and well-functioning.”
“Anytime we can truly invest in our transportation system, I think it can only help the city,” Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker-Myers said while speaking in favor of the lease. “When we talk about jobs and talk about opportunities and talk about getting more revenue … that makes me excited.”
Union Station first opened in 1920, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.