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Union Station to become transportation hub

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD By his frequent smiles, one might assume that Congressman Richard Neal might have been the happiest person at the announcement Tuesday of a new redevelopment plan for Union Station.

Neal was lauded by several speakers at the press conference at the entrance of the long-closed station as not only being the person who led the effort to acquire $38 millions in federal funding for the project but also as the person who has able to maintain the earmark on the funding over a number of years.

Built in 1926 and closed 1973, Union Station has been the focus of a number of failed redevelopment efforts. The plan Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno called discussed Tuesday "fiscally prudent."

Gone are the shopping mall, IMAX Theater and hotel complexes of previous plans. Instead, Mary McInnes the administrator of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) said the project's designer, HDR, "understood this was a transportation project with economic benefits."

With the emphasis on transportation the new $65 million design would be the home of Amtrak, any future commuter rail service, PVTA buses and taxis. Maureen Hayes, the president of the Springfield Business development Corporation, said that Peter Pan Buslines has been part of the planning process with the goal of moving that company's intercity bus service into the new building. Hayes said that she hoped to hear from the company shortly about its possible involvement.

The baggage building, which currently fenced off, would be demolished and a two-story building with 23 bus bays on the first floor and a 400-space parking garage on the second floor would be built on the site. T The new building would extend to Main Street over the site of the former Hotel Charles and would include 5,000 square feet of space designed for retail facing Main Street.

The lobby of the terminal would be redesigned and the tunnel linking it with Lyman Street would be re-opened.

Buses would enter Frank B. Murray Street from Main Street, enter the bus bay area and then exit onto Dwight Street.

The most recent previous plan had buses picking up and discharging passengers on the railroad tracks, which meant securing rights to cross the railroad tracks, Hayes explained. That approach would have been more expensive, she added.

The PVTA would move its offices from its current Main Street location to Union Station and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission would also move into the office portion of the building. Square One would open a day care center in the space as well.

McInnes said there would be 35,000 square feet of "commercial opportunity space, which she envisioned as being used by businesses providing "support services," for travelers.

"This big picture today is where dreams and reality come together," State Rep. Joseph Wagner, who is the chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation. Wagner added there should be additional state funding in the future for the project for parking and other components.

The plan presented last week was one of 15 scenarios devised by HDR, McInnes said and was the "most cost efficient" of the top three plans.

The planning process was underwritten by a $350,000 grant through the Executive Office of Transportation. Federal funds would cover about half of the $65 million budget with $11 million coming from state funds, McInnes said.

The next step is to secure approve from the Federal Transit Administration and the Executive Office of Transportation followed by the establishment of a joint development agreement between the PVTA and the owners of the building, the Springfield Redevelopment Agency, on the construction of the project.

If every step falls into place, Hayes said the project should be completed in 2011.

Neal reminded the audience at the press conference that 31 years ago he started his political career with a run for a seat on the City Council with a kick-off at Union Station. The redevelopment of Union Station was a priority then and it is still a priority with Neal.

"I will do everything I can to move this project forward," he said.