Plans to build a train station uptown and move Amtrak service from its cramped quarters on North Tryon Street are still alive and moving forward, a Charlotte Area Transit System official told city leaders last week, though plenty of questions remain.
After more than a decade of talk and planning, Tina Votaw, the Charlotte Gateway Station project manager, acknowledged that the project has been “kind of a sleeper.” The 17-acre site, which runs along the train tracks between Bank of America Stadium and Ninth Street, remains mostly surface parking lots.
Utility work to make way for the new station should start in early 2018, Votaw said. But beyond relocating utility lines and preparing new bridges for passenger trains, officials are hoping that actual work will send a message: The project is finally happening. That’s why Votaw said she believes it’s crucial to publish a request for proposals from developers for building the actual station at the same time preliminary work starts.
“It’s important we show the community, especially the development community, that we’re moving forward,” she said. “It’s alive, it is well, there is momentum.”
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Design work for the five new bridges that would be required for train service should be wrapped up this fall. After that, if work started next year on the preliminary phases, the station could be completed by 2024, though Votaw stressed the timing is tentative.
Funding for the first phase, estimated to cost $70 million to $80 million, includes a $30 million federal grant and a pledge of $48.75 million from the N.C. Department of Transportation. The city of Charlotte has also pledged $33 million from its capital budget for the station.
The Gateway Station would be connected to the uptown transit center and the Blue Line light rail by the streetcar line that’s under construction on Trade Street.
But there are still a lot of question marks. The final station could cost hundreds of millions of dollars and would require a partnership with a private developer. Votaw said CATS would likely put out an open-ended RFP, which would require federal agencies to sign off as well, to see how developers suggest building the station.
“We’ve got this property,” she said. “We want a station sooner rather than later. Tell us how you would do it.”
Greyhound also owns a 1.3-acre parcel on West Trade Street, in the middle of the planned Gateway Station site, where Greyhound operates its uptown Charlotte bus station. The plan requires purchasing that site. Votaw said the future train station would have intercity bus-service, but only on a “roll-through” basis, with none of the behind-the-scenes maintenance and other operations Greyhound does there now. They would also have to relocate during the whole construction period.
“Finding a home for them is a struggle,” she said.
Trains ran uptown until 1962, when rail service was relocated to a facility on North Tryon Street that’s now small, outdated and disconnected from the city’s downtown center. Planners and local leaders hope bringing them back will spark a major development boom on the surrounding blocks, including the publicly owned land.
A preliminary planning study by CATS and a planning consultant suggests the surrounding land could support the development of hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space, new shops and restaurants, hundreds of apartments and a hotel.