City leaders want a restaurant on the top of Union Station that’s distinctive, but not so fancy that train riders can’t afford it.
In the office space on the station’s second floor, city leaders would like a cool business tenant – one that fits the Warehouse District’s reputation as a center for creatives and techies. And on the first floor, city leaders want a food vendor that offers grab-and-go meals that travelers can take on trains.
Union Station, a transit hub the city is building near the corner of West and Martin streets, is expected to be one of downtown Raleigh’s busiest places once it opens next January. The city expects construction to be completed by the end of the year.
Raleigh leaders aren’t crazy about finding tenants for those spaces on their own. So the city staff is recommending that the Raleigh City Council solicit ideas from private sector groups interested in filling the Union Station spaces and possibly managing the property.
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“We’ve certainly received some initial cold calls on the project and our intent,” said David Eatman, a city transit administrator.
In essence, Raleigh is looking for a bouncer for Union Station. The city could use input from the brokerage community to find the mix of tenants that promotes local businesses while generating rent revenue for the city.
“A master lease agreement would insulate the city from potential risks associated with individual tenants,” Councilman Bonner Gaylord said after a council work session Tuesday.
Next month, the City Council is poised to set aside a $400,000 budget to use on retrofitting Union Station’s rental spaces for future tenants. City staff also hopes to enter a contract with a property manager by June 30, said Roberta Fox, assistant director of planning and design for the city.
Union Station will have separate 2,100-square-foot and 1,700-square-foot spaces on the ground floor, a 6,200-square-foot space on the second floor and a 2,700-square-foot space on the third floor.
The council will have the final say over who goes in the Union Station spaces, Fox said. And council members on Tuesday expressed a desire to fill the spaces with local businesses.
“Anytime we can include our local folks, it’s important for us to do so,” Councilwoman Kay Crowder said.
There’s no set leasing price for the various spaces. Whatever contracts the city signs for Union Station will affect its annual operating cost, which is $500,000 to $800,000 a year.
The council should resist the urge to enter lease agreements with the highest bidders, Gaylord said.
“We can’t let be penny wise and pound foolish. We’ll need to be flexible with these amounts,” he said. “Our RFP should reflect the desire that we want to cater to locals and local retailers.”