Union Station progress – and protest – continues

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All aboard.
The $477 million plan to transform Denver’s Union Station into a bustling transit hub is inching forward, even as protracted debate about what, exactly, this hub should look like continues.

Today, September 9, at 12:15 at the Tattered Cover Lodo, an organization called the Open Space Initiative Group will present their version of how the area around the station should appear.

And tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. in rooms 4F6/4G2 of the Wellington Webb Building, 201 West Colfax Avenue, officials will conduct a public hearing on Union Station’s Final Environmental Impact Statement. The Final EIS, prepared by the Regional Transportation District with help from the City of Denver and other local agencies with a stake in Union Station, describes the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of the Union Station redevelopment plan, which calls for a light rail terminal, a commuter rail train depot, an underground bus station and new public spaces around the existing station.

Once the Federal Transit Administration signs off on this document (which, unless there are complications, should occur in the next month or two), “All of the federal approvals that are necessary to secure the funding and start construction are done,” reports Frank Cannon, development manager of Union Station Neighborhood Company, the project’s master developer. “At that point we will be ready to move very quickly to get this built.”

Officials hope to break ground on the four-year construction project next spring.

But before that occurs, some community members would like serious tweaks to the plan. The Open Space Initiative Group opposes "a plan to shoehorn two [six-story] towers to be constructed in the plaza on both ends of the station, effectively squeezing out the historic structure,” reads a statement from the group. “It is not too late to adjust the overall concept to retain historic settings and to create an active public square capable of events that can have thousands of people in attendance.”

This wing-building debate is nothing new, says Luke O'Kelley, co-chair of Union Station Advocates, another group with an interest in the project – and he says at this point, the debate is over: “My feeling is that when it comes to the side buildings, that train has left the station.” Union Station’s redevelopment master plan, unveiled in 2004, included plans for the wing buildings, and the rezoning of the area, which passed that same year, allowed for the structures, too. A variety of plaza concepts proposed over the years have also embraced the wing buildings as ways to frame the public spaces within the plaza.

Furthermore, Hargreaves Associates, the landscape design consulting firm working on the Union Station project, is quickly moving forward on planning the station’s plaza and other public spaces – plans that includes the wing buildings. Hargreaves is proposing to include both active public spaces and tree-filled areas in the plaza, as well as designing a long parkway alongside 17th Street behind the station.

“In general we are favorably disposed to the concepts they are presenting, but feel that there needs to be more discussion, and we are going to present some alternative ideas,” says O’Kelley. Union Station Advocates will present those alternatives a public meeting at 7 p.m. on September 23 in rooms 4F6/4G2 of the Wellington Webb Building. – Joel Warner

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