The city of Raleigh may spend an additional $16 million on the first phase of Union Station, bringing the cost of the Amtrak station and transit hub to $84 million.
Increasing property values and unanticipated utility costs have driven up the price of the station, which was scheduled to begin construction this March on the west side of downtown Raleigh.
If the Raleigh City Council decides not to allocate extra money, the city could be forced to eliminate elements now in the project’s master plan. The changes could include postponing plans for a public plaza, cutting most of the space planned for private leasing, and stopping efforts to pursue a “green” building certification, according to city staff.
“We are now in a position where we understand a lot better where we are,” said City Manager Ruffin Hall.
The current plan includes a sweeping renovation of the old Dillon Supply Viaduct building in downtown’s warehouse district. It could provide for restaurants, shops and a civic plaza. The project would replace a cramped Amtrak station on Cabarrus Street and eventually serve both trains and buses. A light-rail station could follow two blocks north as part of a Triangle transit plan.
The council discussed the changes Tuesday morning at a work session. Staff members have prepared four options for extra funding, from $75 million to $84 million. The most costly option preserves all of the master plan. The least expensive choices would eliminate a plan to enclose the station’s concourse.
At the original $68 million cost, the plan now would have to include an “at-grade” crossing, where cars directly cross rails, according to city staff.
“This does not meet the goals of our funding partners, and may very well make the project not move forward,” said Assistant Manager Roberta Fox, referring to the “do-nothing” option.
The city’s current contribution to the construction is $5.75 million. Raleigh would have to pick up all of the new costs under discussion, according to staff. Raleigh architect Steve Schuster has led design of the building and its 4.3-acre lot.
The project’s planners said the station would be a flexible foundation for future transit possibilities as well as an answer to immediate needs.
“As modes come, we think this building is set up with its connectivity to be able to allow those things to happen,” Schuster said. “In the short term, we think it needs to be a great public facility, a great transit facility.”
Council members were concerned that the station wouldn’t address Raleigh’s long-term needs, such as the eventual possibility of light regional rail and high-speed rail.
“Should we be building this facility to be a mid-term solution, or should we see this as the ultimate long-term solution?” asked council member Russ Stephenson.
Council member Kay Crowder asked if the city should review whether the station project needs to be as large as envisioned by the master plan.
“Do we need to build something to this scale?” Crowder asked. “Or should we be looking at something maybe a step back? Are we really looking at the last one we’re going to build?”
Still, the extra spending seemed to have strong council support. Council member John Odom said he was amenable to the most expensive option.
“We need to move forward,” he said. “The city of Raleigh’s moving fast, and we need great opportunities.”
Key to city’s development
Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said a renovated train station would be key to the city’s ongoing development. Councilman Eugene Weeks sided with Odom’s support, calling the current Amtrak station an embarrassment, and councilman Bonner Gaylord said similar investments in Raleigh-Durham International Airport have been worthwhile.
Council member Wayne Maiorano called for more analysis of the three more expensive options. Stephenson later said he supported “full funding” of the project.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane said a reduction in the retail space, as some options propose, would mean less rent money for the city.
The council didn’t take a binding vote. Hall said staff would return in the near future with more details and recommendations.
The city also is considering building a bus station on one of several lots north of Union Station. One possibility is to sell the air rights above such a bus facility, allowing a private developer to build atop it.
Eventually, a circulator bus could connect the station with the Moore Square Transit Station on the east side of downtown.