Architects offer first look at planned Raleigh Union Station

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJune 26, 2013 

— City leaders and residents got their first look Wednesday at the proposed design of downtown Raleigh’s future train hub, as architects released their first renderings.

Amtrak passengers will enter through a civic plaza shaded by a large “urban canopy,” crossing under railroad tracks into the former Dillon Supply Viaduct warehouse. They’ll await their train in the cavernous main room of the Grand Central-style station, or grab a bite upstairs with a view of Raleigh’s skyline.

Those are a few of the plans that Clearscapes architect Steve Schuster unveiled Wednesday. “The train station for the capital of North Carolina has to be authentic, has to be memorable and has to be unique,” he said.

Design work for the station is moving ahead despite recent news that the project is no longer fully funded. The N.C. Department of Transportation shifted $15.1 million of the station’s $60 million in previously announced funding to a Raleigh-to-Charlotte rail line. It now will have to find more money or settle for a scaled-back project, possibly opting for a temporary station and shelving Schuster’s blueprints for years. Raleigh Planning Director Mitchell Silver alluded to the shortfall at Wednesday’s meeting.

“We are here to assure you that this project is a high priority for both the city and the state Department of Transportation,” he said. “We are proceeding with the design while actively seeking out funding for the next phase of the project.”

The construction phase will raze a vacant car dealership at West and Martin streets to create a hard-to-miss entryway. The civic plaza would serve as a gateway to downtown and host up to eight food trucks and pop-up retail spaces along with a performance and gathering spot. Those events would get shade from the urban canopy hanging over the plaza and the vehicle entrance to its south. The canopy shape is similar to a traditional railroad semaphore signal.

“It’s picking up on the railroad and industrial heritage of the place,” Schuster said.

The design drew praise from Raleigh City Councilman Thomas Crowder, who’s also an architect. “I love the canopy,” he said. “It’s a fabulous entry into the complex.”

Once inside the station, passengers would have plenty of chances to appreciate Raleigh’s skylines. Schuster expects a restaurant would occupy a third-floor retail space and rooftop terrace, and the enclosed walkway to the platform would offer more views as an “introduction to our city.”

“We want to make sure that the skyline we have today is really celebrated,” Schuster said.

In the long term, the station has room to add a commuter rail platform, and Raleigh officials plan to build a new bus station nearby. The city is looking at seven potential sites in the blocks surrounding Union Station. The bus station will likely include a parking deck – something that’s missing from the Union Station plans thanks to limited space. The train hub has fewer than 40 short-term and handicapped spaces, less than the current station on Cabarrus Street.

Clearscapes architects still have months of work ahead to flesh out the proposal with the feedback provided Wednesday. “The design work still has a long way to progress,” Schuster said.

And as the plans take shape, Raleigh and DOT will get an updated cost estimate. The project is expected to cost more than the original $60 million estimate made last year, and the funding shortfall means only $45 million is in the bank for now.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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