City of Sleeping Beauties: Springfield’s Union Station

Posted on Tuesday, June 12 2007 by Heather Brandon

Springfield's Union Station

















20 Responses to “City of Sleeping Beauties: Springfield’s Union Station”

  1. NoPolitician

    $14 million has already been spent on this building. Anyone see evidence of $14 million worth of work? When I drive by on the highway it looks like the roof is off (or maybe there’s just a tarp over it).

    While I think a renovated Union Station would be great, especially for a commuter rail project, something about this project smells terribly foul.

  2. RMT http://mysite.verizon.net/vzeovxpk/

    Has there been a strong civic group/watchdog group holding the officials’ feet to the fire? Have officals been permitted to take an easy way out?

    I haven’t heard of one before. That’s why a group of people interested in making sure a commuter rail project happens has formed. We want this project to move forward. Join up–we could use you!

    Our petition [http://devalpatrick.com/issue.php?issue_id=7577428] has collected over 80 signatures so far, and we’ve been contacting local leaders to make sure they know about the new folks who are going to keep the pressure on them. More to come.

  3. Sheila McElwaine

    Union Station has had so many false starts and has been such a money pit for so long that many people are just sick and tired of it. It was a relief when the September ULI team suggested mothballing it in favor of other project, so having it reactivated calls for a stronger rationale has been offered so far. If Union Station actually gets rehabilitated into an inermodal transportation node, great. But if it gets lots of attention and money and STILL goes nowhere after six months or a year, it will just give naysayers and cynics another opportunity to say they told us so and for those with other, more easily achieved projects in mind to feel demoralized.

  4. NoPolitician

    Coupled with a commuter rail proposal, such a project might make sense. The current train station probably actively keeps people from using trains. In order for commuter rail to exist, we actually need to get people to commute.

    But if no such commuter rail proposal was out there, rehabbing this building doesn’t make much sense now. We have so many other areas that need help, how is creating a combined bus/train terminal going to push life into our city?

    I’m always amazed at how hard Richie Neal and others push this project — to the point where the Boston Globe ran an editorial piece in 2005, highlighting what needs to be done to revitalize Springfield, and Union Station was #2 on the list. Turns out the author of the piece was James Aloisi, a lawyer representing, you guessed it, the Union Station project. And he was heavily involved in the Big Dig. Doh!

    Like I said, something here really, really smells to me. The entire project just doesn’t make sense at its face value.

  5. Matt S. http://wmasspi.blogspot.com

    Tragically, Union Station’s problems do tie back to corruption. The extent to which is unclear, but part of the “departure” of Garry Shepherd from the PVTA is related to it. The project is a vestige of Albano’s “plans” for the city. That doesn’t make it a waste or unnecessary, but that he was running its show made its completion hardly a sure thing. In addition, the PVTA was the wrong agency to develop it anyway. They simply lack the experience to work on it. The best solution would have been the Springfield Redevelopment Authority do it as was done in Worcester. That is probably what will happen now. It also didn’t help that plans called for buses to be brought up to track level in some bizarre politically correct attempt to make bus users not feel inferior to train users. Check out my thoughts (http://wmasspi.blogspot.com/2007/02/renovation-from-square-one.html), to see what should or maybe might be the plans. At least for the buses, the other stuff is just musings.

  6. RMT http://mysite.verizon.net/vzeovxpk/

    There is a plan. Currently, CT is moving ahead with their project for commuter rail between New Haven and Springfield. It’s been studied for over 7 years. MA needs to commit close to $30 million to make this happen. CT is going to put close to $270million. Trains will go to Springfield to turn around and go back again, leaving Springfield even worse.

    I hear you about your (justified) skepticism, however. If no one gets after this project, it will go nowhere. Care to join in the effort?

    Contact Springfield Legislators:

    Senator Stephen J. Buoniconti:- ward one (all precincts), ward three (all precincts), ward four (all precincts), ward five (precincts A and B) and ward six (all precincts) http://www.mass.gov/legis/member/sjb0.htm

    Senator Gale D. Candaras:- ward two (all precincts), ward five (precincts C, D, E, F, G and H), ward seven (all precincts) and ward eight (all precincts) http://www.galecandaras.org/contact_information.htm

    Representative Mary S. Rogeness:- ward six (precincts B and C) http://www.mass.gov/legis/member/msr1.htm

    Representative Sean Curran:- ward two (A, B, C, D, F, G and H), ward five (precincts C, D, G and H), ward 7 (precinct H) and ward eight (precincts A, B, D and H) http://www.mass.gov/legis/member/s_c1.htm

    Representative Cheryl A. Rivera:- ward one (all precincts), ward three (precincts B, C, F, G and H) and ward six (precincts A, E and G) http://www.mass.gov/legis/member/car1.htm

    Representative Benjamin Swan:- ward three (precincts A, D and E), ward four (all precincts), ward five (precincts A, B, E and F) and ward seven (precinct A), ward 8 (precinct C)
    http://www.mass.gov/legis/member/b_s1.htm

    Representative Angelo J. Puppolo:- ward six (precincts D, F and H) and ward seven (precincts B, C, D, E, F and G) http://www.mass.gov/legis/member/ajp1.htm

    Representative James T. Welch: ward 2 (precinct E) http://www.mass.gov/legis/member/jtw1.htm

    Representative Thomas M. Petrolati: ward 8 (precincts E, F and G)
    http://www.mass.gov/legis/member/tmp1.htm

    Don’t forget Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation [(617) 722-2400 http://www.mass.gov/legis/comm/j27.htm, Chicopee’s own Rep. Joseph Wagner http://www.mass.gov/legis/member/jfw1.htm

    Agawam’s Rep. Rosemary Sandlin http://www.mass.gov/legis/member/r_s1.htm

    and Westfield’s Rep. Donald Humason Jr. http://www.mass.gov/legis/member/dfh1.htm

  7. RMT http://mysite.verizon.net/vzeovxpk/

    I tried to post a note yesterday, but it didn’t appear (sigh).

    The short story: YES there is a rail plan. CT has spent over 7 years studying and planning for it. It’s the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail line (NHHS). The cost will be about $300M. with MA paying 10% (about the price of the Coolidge Bridge repair in Northampton/Hadley).

    Details about the economic benefits of rail can be found here: http://www.pvpc.org/web-content/docs/ecdev/econ_impact_nhhart_rail.pdf

    According to one development person/participant in the process, a schedule for Union Station won’t be ready “until the Redevelopment Plan is complete. The schedule for preparing that plan is six months from a September 1 start date. So I’d say by March of 08 we will have a schedule.”

    Advocates for commuter rail will continue to push for MA to pay the $30M for the connection to Springfield. I suggest contacting legislators as a start. http://www.mass.gov/legis/citytown.htm (Sen. Candaras’ link doesn’t work from that so use http://www.galecandaras.org/contact_information.htm instead)

  8. Heather Brandon http://urbancompass.net

    Sorry about your post yesterday, RMT; my spam filter caught it but I was able to extract it. So it should appear above.

    I’ve been researching the Union Station plans giving particular attention to the eminent domain taking of the station back in 1989 by the Springfield Redevelopment Authority, at the time headed by Domenic Sarno (not the current city councilor). The SRA took the station for $1, which was contested by the private owner, and I haven’t yet been able to read through all the archives to find out what happened after that. Anyone know? Since the building is still owned by the SRA I’m going to guess that not much happened.

    The revitalization project seems to have been initiated by then-Mayor Richard Neal, so this whole thing has a history that goes further back than former Mayor Michael Albano. In newspaper articles I found, there were various references in 1988 and 1989 to the station having been vacant for either eight or 18 years, depending on who was writing the piece.

    Efforts to remodel were tied to the Hotel Charles, which then disastrously burned down, and if I understand correctly that was a hugely discouraging distraction from efforts at Union Station. What do folks remember about this?

    I’m very interested in it particularly because of things Congressman Richard Neal has said at both the groundbreaking for River’s Landing as well as the announcement of the PVTA grant from the state to get a consultant to draw up a plan. Neal’s words about projects’ meaningfulness in the past, at both sites, reveal both his disappointment that things didn’t come to fruition the way he hoped, as well as perhaps his sense of not knowing exactly what these sites should have been all along. I have been picking up on the idea that maybe the brainstorming and the consulting and the planning has been for no other purpose except to pay consultants to do a job that pushes paper and nothing else. Not because people have ill intent, but because they just have no ideas and perhaps are working under circumstances that seem out of control or anti-development. I think there has been a strange anti-development vibe in the city for a long time, a desire to close in on itself and be protective, rather than open up, get the best of the best ideas and talents to come in, and maybe take some healthy risks. We seem not to know how to differentiate between good risk-taking and bad risk-taking especially when it comes to big projects.

    The plans for Union Station that were announced in 1988, uncannily, sound almost exactly like what could be announced today.

    From this September 20, 1988 article in the then-Union News, by Carol Malley (this was about six months prior to the SRA taking):

    Springfield and Springfield Central Inc. are seeking to have a $300,000 to $600,000 study done to create a strategy for development of Union Station. Springfield Central Executive Director Carlo Marchetti said yesterday that a review committee has received submissions from 15 architectural and development teams responding to a request for qualifications, and has narrowed the list to six finalists.

    The 200,000-square-foot Union Station, built in 1926 on the block bounded by Liberty, Lyman, Main and Dwight streets, includes a terminal and an office building portion.

    Possible re-uses suggested by the city and Springfield Central in the request for consultant qualifications included: office, retail and housing, as well as a public market, a crafts center and housing.

    At the same time that the city is moving to come up with a strategy for the station, the owner, David Buntzman, has scheduled a meeting for today of his representatives and city officials.

    The Springfield Redevelopment Authority eight months ago gave Buntzman until Oct. 8 to come up with an acceptable development plan for the station. If Buntzman does not meet the deadline, an urban renewal plan would allow the city to take the property and seek development proposals.

    Buntzman, who has hired Jerzy E. Glowczewski, a New York architect, to work on a proposal, has has owned the station for 18 years, and had proposed development in the past but never moved forward.

    The state grant to PVTA just received is $350,000 to “re-start the Union Station project.” According to the press release on this, the PVTA will work in conjunction with the SRA on redevelopment. They are sending out an RFQ (request for qualifications) this month to engineers and architects, the goal being to select a consultant “that will prepare a redevelopment plan for a mixed-use transportation-oriented development.”

    I think residents have good reason to be dubious about such plans, especially given the recent history of the PVTA. I can’t say the SRA has seen similar scandal but I don’t think the community here puts a lot of trust in it. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

    Therefore officials would be wise not to tout these plans much even if they do signify a huge break from the past. We won’t know that, and certainly will have trouble believing it, until we see some evident change in the built environment.

  9. Sheila McElwaine

    And newcomers wonder why people like me are sick of Union Station and people like NoPolitician are suspicious of it? !

    (By the way, the Domenic Sarno referred to above is NOT the mayoral candidate. The SRA Domenic Sarno was a generation older; he ran the SRA for years until the Markel administration.)

    Why should we pour more resources right now into a significant but marginal site with four-stories of vacant office space when we have plenty of vacant office space at the corner of State and Main? Shouldn’t renting up the heart of our city get priority over pouring more money into Union Station?

  10. NoPolitician

    Just a note, the Domenic Sarno from the SRA is not the same Domenic Sarno that is running for mayor.

  11. Heather Brandon http://urbancompass.net

    Thanks to both of you for the note on Sarno; I edited the comment above to reflect that.

    Sheila you raise the same questions on my mind. As much as I’m an advocate for commuter rail, especially north-south, I don’t quite see the logic of the PVTA and the SRA getting behind the Union Station development at a time when the city of Springfield has very clearly identified its priority projects. Are they not enough in number? Lt. Gov. Murray is very familiar with those priority projects, from what I understand. Is this an effort to help the city somehow reach its identified goals?

    At the press conference I chatted for a minute with WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill, who commutes to Northampton from Auburn. He said that commuter rail has been great for Worcester, it’s true, but that they were able to use their Amtrak platform for the purpose before their Union Station was redeveloped.

    Springfield could do the same thing. We don’t need Union Station in order to make commuter rail successful. Sure, our Amtrak platform is a hurtin’ place, but it’s functional and active. If we tie anything to the success of Union Station right now, it’s kind of like tying concrete blocks to our ankles and saying, “You know, I think I’ll have a go at this English Channel thing.” Why do that to ourselves?

    I have not quite grasped yet how this plan is about “mothballing” the station.

    These types of contradictions make it harder both to a) get behind the Union Station developments and b) get behind anything else the ULI may have recommended so far. If our major institutions, both citywide and regional, are having difficulty grasping the to-do list and creating consensus, where will leadership come from?

  12. Matt S. http://wmasspi.blogspot.com

    I agree. While I express cautious support of the commuter rail plans, Union Station’s redevelopment is not and should not be tied to commuter rail. Such action will only hold back timetables and increase costs.

  13. Jay5inSpringfield http://Sosadbuttrue

    There are so many wonderful project ideas for the City of Springfield but they never happen.. Why? It’s a horrible shame! I agree that Springfield needs to open up to new ideas but how do we get the momentum going? I’m terrified to see what Springfield will become in 10 years… It used to be such an interesting Mid-Sized City.

  14. RMT http://mysite.verizon.net/vzeovxpk/

    Joining together in an organized way will help.

    Contact pvacr@yahoo.com to join the Pioneer Valley Advocates for Commuter Rail.

  15. Heather Brandon http://urbancompass.net

    A post at clarksvilleonline.com, out of Tennessee, chronicles writer Christine Anne Piesyk’s travels through the Connecticut River Valley, with commentary on public transit as it relates to Springfield.

    http://www.clarksvilleonline.com/2007/06/28/1484/

  16. NoPolitician

    I’d like to know what she was looking at when she said that Symphony Hall sits next to a slum. I’d also like to know how she feels qualified to make such pronouncements when she said that she didn’t even get off the bus.

  17. Urban Compass | Blog Archive | Two Union Stations http://urbancompass.net/?p=1064

    [...] long-defunct Union Station, located close to the operating Amtrak station, is also said to be subject to a forthcoming [...]

  18. Theresa

    These pictures are…gorgeous.

  19. Heather Brandon http://urbancompass.net

    Thank you Theresa. Union Station would probably thank you, if she were yet emerged from her state of slumber. It’s a lovely space in there, exposed rebar and all.

  20. Urban Compass | Blog Archive | Springfield Union Station Plan Unveiled http://urbancompass.net/?p=1498

    [...] proposal (PDF) from HDR, Inc. to redevelop Springfield’s Union Station, which has active Amtrak service on a platform, but has otherwise been a dormant hulk of a downtown [...]

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