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Developers Discuss Union Station Overhaul

The latest plans to overhaul Union Station were presented before a Congressional subcommittee Wednesday.

Six witnesses, each representing a different facet of redevelopment plans, discussed potential options for improving Union Station. But most of the plans were vague and didn’t include concrete plans for funding.

“This is a major new development based in transportation at Union Station that would almost totally remake the station,— D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said after the hearing. “But you would not have thought there was that understanding from the corporations that are supposed to be directing this.—

Norton chairs the House Transportation Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, which heard the testimony.

Redeveloping and expanding Union Station requires the cooperation of several different entities, each responsible for different pieces of the puzzle. The station is owned by the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, an arm of the federal government. The retail space and air rights are controlled by two private developers.

The District Department of Transportation oversees transportation development, and Amtrak, the most prominent presence in the train terminal, is a crucial part of the process as well. The newest addition to the mix is Greyhound Lines, which has shown interest in leasing and helping fund a new bus terminal to be added onto the back of the station along H Street.

Along with the new bus terminal, the ambitious undertaking includes complete makeovers for the main hall, retail wings and train waiting areas, as well as renovations to the Columbus Circle area in front of Union Station.

Barry Lustig, who represented Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., which controls Columbus Plaza, said his company wants to turn the area into something like what Gallery Place is to the Verizon Center.

Union Station underwent its most recent major overhaul in the late 1980s, after it had deteriorated severely during the 1950s. In 2008, Norton spearheaded an effort to expand Congressional oversight of Union Station, so that the station’s luster would remain intact.

The purpose of Wednesday’s hearing was to ensure that the plans launched last year were still progressing.

As testimony began, each representative discussed plans for his own interest in the development, but none presented a coherent strategy for collaborating or funding.

As each witness testified, Norton repeatedly expressed frustration about the lack of a master plan.

“What I am hearing are pieces that, if they came together, might come close to this vision,— Norton said at the hearing. “What we need is a plan complete with costs and feasibility.—

Many of the individual plans relied heavily on either stimulus money or Congressional funding, which Norton claimed would not be granted without a master plan.

“The federal government isn’t going to get in this until it knows — this is what you want, this is what you need,— she said to the witnesses. “Congress tends to let sleeping dogs lie.—

Chip Akridge, president of Akridge Corp., which owns the station’s air rights, defended the group of witnesses, claiming that while there was no concrete master plan for Union Station development, the group had begun to collaborate.

“It may not be tied in a nice neat little package like you want,— Akridge said. “But the bones are laying around there.—

“The interests here are very disparate,— he added.

But Norton insisted that every interest involved in overhauling Union Station is ultimately codependent and that understanding that codependence would be the key to persuading Congress to grant the money that they need. “There needs to be someone at the helm,— Norton said. David Ball, president of the USRC, should be the one to organize cooperation, she added.

During the hearing, Ball admitted he hadn’t moved to draft a formal master plan but said the process was well under way. “We may not have the plan written down, but we are in constant talks with people about how to make this happen,— Ball said.

In a later interview, Norton said she is frustrated with the testimony that she heard and intends to keep a close eye on the planning process moving forward.

“We are going to be following up with the various parties,— she said. “We are going to have them in here with their plans in the very near future.—

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