New Project Eyed By Train Station

by Paul Bass | August 6, 2007 11:18 AM | | Comments (16)

Picture%20797.jpgThe city has asked developers to submit ideas for how to build new offices, stores and apartments right at the train station. Meanwhile, a new dispute is holding up state construction of a long-delayed parking garage there that would anchor the whole project.

The parking authority last week began advertising for a “consultant team” to put together a plan to build the major new development by the Union Station tracks.

According to the advertised request, the city wants a consultant to do a feasibility study about the idea of building the “transit-oriented development.” Taking a page from Stamford, the city hopes to have jobs people can commute to right at the station. The request calls for building on what’s now a surface parking lot next to the train station parking garage. The project site would be bordered by Route 34, Union Avenue, the garage, and the railroad platform and tracks. It would cover about 1.5 acres.

The request portrays the project as part of a larger vision of building up the area from the train station over to the medical school. It is a stretch dappled with surface parking lots crying out, in planners’ view, for taller buildings filled with people and producing tax revenue.

“From the City’s perspective, the expansion of the medical district and downtown toward Union Station creates a synergy of economic and transportation activity,” the request reads. “The initial concept plan envisions over $500 million in private investment resulting in 1.1 million s.f. of new development and 620 new residential units.”

The request asks the bidders to consider an additional alternative plan to the one filling the surface lot by the station. This second plan would be bigger — it would include the 1.35 acres across the street where the police station currently stands. Under this alternative, the city would tear down the police station, put part of the new development there; and “integrate” a new police station into a second, new parking garage that’s supposed to be built at the train station.

If it ever gets built.

Another Tussle With The State

The state and city have been talking about building that second garage for a decade. And talking. And arguing. And talking.

And getting nowhere.

Any new development at the train station would be wrapped around that new garage. It’s a garage that everyone agrees desperately needs to be built.

Right now, Union Station has a one garage. Its 1,170 spaces fill up by 8 o’clock most mornings. Hundreds of more commuters must then park downtown at the Temple Street garage and wait for a shuttle to take them to a train station. The situation has been a major disincentive to people commuting by train — even though both the city and the state have been trying to convince people to ride trains instead of driving on highways.

The state owns the land where the second garage would go. The city leases the land. The city was originally going to build the new 1,100-space garage. Then the state decided to build it instead. Both sides finally appeared ready to move ahead with the plan in December. (Click here for a story about that.)

Since then, however, a new dispute has arisen. It has taken both sides months just to exchange memos about how to resolve it.

Bill%20Kilpatrick.jpgParking authority chief William Kilpatrick (pictured) said the dispute centers on whether the state will enter into a contract with a private company to manage the garage.

Kilpatrick’s parking authority currently leases that land. It leases and manages the existing garage as well as Union Station itself, with its stores and offices. It’s a profitable lease.

So the city wants the state to buy it out of the lease if the state wants to turn to a private developer to manage the new garage. The lease runs through 2017.

“The state has never shown up with a viable” offer to buy out the lease, said City Plan Director Karyn Gilvarg, who has been involved in talks about a new garage since the mid-1990s. She expressed frustration that the state Department of Transportation has yet to budget money to build a garage or buy out the lease.

Mayor John DeStefano expressed frustration, too. He said he’s worked with four different state transportation commissioners on the project, to no avail.

“The state does not have any plans to build a garage at all,” he said. “It’s incredibly frustrating for riders. It’s adding extra stress to the Milford and Branford stations. And it’s harming economic development along the rail corridor.”

“We’d be willing to give up control [of the parking] if we’re bought out of the lease, but we expect to be fairly compensated,” DeStefano said. “At this point, frankly, the city just wants the state to build the garage. They should just build their garage — either buy us out of the lease, or build their own garage and operate it right next to ours.”

“We’re trying to negotiate with the city on how best to move forward. We’re not in a position today to say we’re ready to move forward or not move forward,” said state Department of Transportation spokesman Judd Everhart. He noted that the DOT has put together initial drawings for the garage.

“We certainly share the mayor’s frustration that this hasn’t been resolved,” Everhart continued. He said the state is confident that “good-faith negotiations” will resolve the issue.

He noted that another state agency, public works, has encountered similar problems with New Haven’s economic development office in moving forward another major project, the new Gateway Community College. The public works commissioner last week wrote the mayor a letter last week pleading with him to intervene with the office. (Click here for that story.) Meanwhile, a communications problem between development chief Kelly Murphy and New Haven’s state legislators involving parking at the Connecticut Mental Health Center has thrown a wrench into already delayed plans to build a new cancer center at Yale-New Haven Hospital and a new biotech complex by Route 34. Click here and here to read Mary O’Leary’s stories on the subject in the Register.

Melissa Bailey contributed reporting to this story.

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Posted by: Please Stop | August 6, 2007 12:08 PM

Amazingly arrogant stuff from Judd Everhart since the reason the original deal fell apart (where the city would build the garage) is that the deal makers from the state DOT got prosecuted and sentenced on unrelated matters involving their administration of improvements at the New Haven train station. New administrators at DOT reopened all contracts and have not been able to make a deal since. Hard to believe that such a thing happened or that Everhart would blame the City despite the arrest (and eventual imprisonment) of state employees?

Who writes Judd's press releases? Karl Rove? Our guys got indicted ... I know, let's say it's the city's fault the garage has not been built. Maybe Judd should read the FBI's press releases before he writes his own.

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | August 6, 2007 2:00 PM

In the competition between the DOT and the city government for the award of most incompetent, the loser is, as always, the citizens. This debacle brought to you by the same mayor's office that left the Ferry Street bridge closed for years without a plan to repair it, and the same DOT that is over ten years late ordering replacement commuter rail cars.

Posted by: Esbe [TypeKey Profile Page] | August 6, 2007 2:01 PM

This kind of "transit oriented" development is what the city and the region need. Bravo.

As for the on-going delay in the parking garage: Help! The argument has been over who gets the revenue from the new garage and DeStefano is finally willing to just let it go to the State. We are a poor city in a rich state, but they are putting up the funding. Fine, so what is the hold-up now? The State wants to take the revenue from the existing garage as well!

The State puts up $100s of millions for ill-conceived projects in Hartford, but constructs nothing but road-blocks for New Haven.

It is time for our State Senators and Reps to start "representing" New Haven in Hartford, as opposed to working against the City and in favor of small special interests (read the linked Rag article for the sad details, which seems a lot worse than a "miscommunication")

Posted by: charlie | August 6, 2007 2:02 PM

It's worth it for the City to hold out until they can get a decent deal. Instead of building just a garage, it should be a garage that is wrapped by a Target, or by office and residential uses. A garage contributes very little to the city, even though it is better than an open parking lot. If you incorporate it into a much larger development, though, you can begin to create a much better, more attractive connection between the train station and downtown, which ultimately will be far more productive for us than simply having more parking.

Also, whatever gets built there needs to incorporate a wider sidewalk and ideally a bicycle lane as well. The current sidewalk along the existing garage is too narrow for the number of pedestrians who could ultimately be expected to use it to walk from downtown to the station. Also, many cyclists currently use it to get to the station and there is simply not enough room for that.

Posted by: Your Tax Dollars at Work | August 7, 2007 12:21 PM

Y-NH v. City; City v. State on railroad station parking and Gateway; HANH can't outsource on the cheap to decent managers; people being shot all over town; Police Dept., once an innovator in community policing looking for advice on how to do community policing (like telling the dealers we're going to launch a big undercover program).

Just can't seem to solve problems? HMMM --Then we hear: City administrators getting raises. I know! Let's write a book. How about this title: "Catch 22."

Posted by: Ned | August 7, 2007 3:53 PM

Using Google Earth, one can see how much of New Haven and the area around Union Station is devoted to surface parking. I'm guessing that the street grid from Lee High School to Union Station was destroyed by the "urban renewal" route 34 debacle by seriously incompetent urban planners and architects. Union Station appears to be about half the size of the adjacent parking garage (does that make sense to anyone?). The Church St. South housing project is particularly incoherent and Orange St. is crying out for a direct connection, from Ninth Square, to Union Station (Route 34 strikes again)... Maybe Ms. Harp and Ms. Dillon could find some land to take from the state and give to the city for a revenue generating garage development???

Posted by: Esbe [TypeKey Profile Page] | August 7, 2007 6:21 PM

Ned: yes, yes, yes. And as for the suggestion for Ms Harp and Ms Dillon: yes!

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | August 8, 2007 12:02 AM

It's worth it for the City to hold out until they can get a decent deal. Instead of building just a garage, it should be a garage that is wrapped by a Target, or by office and residential uses.

That's called requirements creep, and it has delayed and destroyed many a project. The garage should have been finished years ago - no excuses. There's plenty of other land to build upon; the housing project across the street would be an excellent place to start (after nuking it).

Posted by: Roger Senserrich | August 8, 2007 9:17 AM

Who on his right mind has such a wonderful resource as an active commuter rail terminal to the richest city in the planet and drops the ball like that? It is simply insane that there is absolutely no easy way to go from Union Station to downtown, let alone having the station in the middle of a pathetic urban wasteland. When Bridgeport, of all places, has more business close to the train station, you are doing something really, really wrong.

About "requirement creep". Just demolish the police station, and allow a private developer to put a big building there, with 4-5 floors of parking at the bottom, or even better, underground. Just get the area moving; surface parking is death for a neighborhood, and Union Station has a ton of it around.

Posted by: The Sieve [TypeKey Profile Page] | August 8, 2007 9:48 AM

I agree that citizens are the ones who suffer from the lack of movement on the part of the state and city. The city of New Haven, and the State of Connecticut, desparately need an expanded parking facility at Union Station that can handle the influx of Stamford and NYC-bound commuters from all points North. Each day I see license plates from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and other states to our North. The new garage is a critical step to ease congestion on I-95, which is a parking lot from Bridgeport to Stamford every morning from 6:15 to 9:15am. If you have driven on 95 lately, you will understand that the volume of traffic is a threat to the well-being of travelers, the environment in CT, particularly along our fragile shoreline, and to our efforts to decrease dependence on oil.

One last problem is the question of NHPD parking. The PD uses the Union Station parking garage as spillover parking for its cruisers. I have counted as many as 12 cruisers on a given day. That is 12 fewer spots for commuters and residents, like me. I recently read that police cruisers on the street had their tires slashed in front of headquarters. It is clear that the PD needs a better lot too. As a citizen, I am happy for a police presence around the Union Station lot, however I believe having so many cruisers parked there when parking is so tight is an abuse.

Posted by: charlie | August 8, 2007 9:52 AM

I disagree, NFJanette. There's no use building the garage if it's just going to destroy the City. The new garage needs to have, at a bare minimum, 1) ample sidewalks, including bicycle amenities given the fact that so many cyclists ride along the sidewalk there 2) an attractive facade, 3) a street presence that doesn't "kill" the area like the Police Station does, which ideally includes a "wrapping" of retail, housing or other uses that can animate the street at different hours. We shouldn't settle for the lowest common denominator ESPECIALLY on a site that sits literally right in the middle of downtown. With all the traffic there I don't see why it has to be given over just to a parking garage without any amenities for people who actually LIVE here. I'd rather let people just take the bus. Remember we all have to live with whatever goes there for the next 50-100 years!

Oh, and about that housing project - that was supposed to be demolished back in 2003. What happened? Does anyone know? It needs to be taken down immediately and replaced with tax-generating development that better ties the station to downtown. What should have happened is the City should have demolished it and givenit to Yale to expand for free. Instead, the City raised permit fees massively and got Yale to move out to West Haven. Great. Congratulations on being so shortsighted.

Posted by: Alfred Martin | August 8, 2007 1:46 PM

I never knew they've been talking about a second garage for a decade. Ten years out of our convenience for their bureaucracy. Oh, the agony of it all. Cut government, cut cut cut

Posted by: nhrr | August 8, 2007 5:10 PM everyone who advocates building additional housing at the train station...who in the world would want to live there? Let's have scenic I-95 at your back door, Rt. 34 at your side door, the sound of rail traffic throughout the day and evening, and a wonderful housing project across the street. Build the garage, give it street presence, space for "grab & go" retail that caters to the commuters who will going past each day...but forget the "wrapping it with housing" idea. And I agree with Roger above...there is no easy way to get from the train station to downtown. It is also not the easiest trick to get from the train station to the highway. The whole area needs a cohesive redevelopment plan, which is far beyond the capabilities of this city's inept and ingrown administration.

Posted by: Your Tax Dollars at Work | August 8, 2007 5:59 PM

This is a great discussion with many excellent suggestions. I hope City administrators are listening.

Thank you, thank you, New Haven Independent for providing a desperately needed forum!

Posted by: nutmeg [TypeKey Profile Page] | August 9, 2007 9:16 AM

"there is no easy way to get from the train station to downtown. It is also not the easiest trick to get from the train station to the highway."

Are you serious? Are you lewis and clark trying to reach the pacific ocean?

Take a right on union and a left at crown or chapel. it's about a 5-7 min drive or a 15 min walk to the green. and the highway entrance is at max a 1/4 mile from the parking garage exit.

Posted by: nhrr | August 9, 2007 9:36 PM

I'd love to take a right on Union and a left on Chapel or Crown...but that is impossible since Union runs into the southbound side of State Street, which is one-way. So unless you want to risk a head-on collision, you have to take a right, then a left onto the northbound side of State Street, then turn onto Chapel or Crown. By the way, the green signs pointing to "Downtown" from the train station lead a driver down North Frontage and then provide no further assistance.

As far as going to the highway...sure, its just 1/4-mile, but I think most people will agree that joining the Rt. 34 connector through a sharp right-hand turn into the existing entrance ramp for South Frontage Road, then into a traffic lane that is full of vehicles heading to I-95 south is not the easiest thing to do, especially if you are attempting to get to I-91 north. The number of accidents that occur on that short stretch of rt. 34 attest to the difficulty.

As far as walking from the train station to the green...what would your route be? Would you choose to walk up S. Orange St. past the housing project, then down the overgrown sidewalk on South Frontage to Church St. to cross the rt. 34 connector...or would you go down Union Ave. under the poorly lit highway bridge past the demolished Coliseum? Pretend you're a student or a tourist arriving by train after dark with a laptop case and a duffle bag.

Besides the highway, the train station is the main gateway to the city, but the roads and pedestrian pathways do not support this role. People who live and work here have become accustomed to the way it is. Try to look at it through the eyes of someone who is arriving here for the first time. What would be your first impression of New Haven?

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