Charlotte leaders heading to Denver to see transit station, learn about development

Denver Union Station features transit, restaurants, retail and The Crawford Hotel.
Denver Union Station features transit, restaurants, retail and The Crawford Hotel. Ellen Jaskol Photography

It’s only been about two months since the Carolina Panthers lost the Super Bowl to the Denver Broncos, but a delegation of three dozen prominent Charlotte leaders are headed to the Mile High City this week to study how best to redevelop a major transit station.

They’ll be touring Denver’s Union Station, the hub of a regional transportation network that includes commuter rail, light rail, buses and Amtrak service. The station also includes a hotel, high-end restaurants and shopping. The goal of this week’s trip, Center City Partners CEO Michael Smith said, is to see how a similar project in Charlotte could drive development in the city. Center City Partners organized the trip.

“It’s not merely about trains and transit,” said Smith. “It is a super-regional asset, much like the airport, that is foundational to what kind of city, what kind of region do you want to be for the 21st century.”

The revitalization of Union Station in Denver is tied to a $500 million regional transit center in central Denver, created with funding from local governments, the state and federal government.

In Charlotte, the city and state are moving forward with plans for a new regional transit center uptown that would include Amtrak, the streetcar, commuter rail and bus service. Called Gateway Station, the project would be located at Graham, Fourth and Trade streets. The current Amtrak station on North Tryon Street dates to 1962, and is regarded as small, outdated and too far from the center of Charlotte.

The Charlotte project, however, still faces challenges, largest among them funding. The N.C. Department of Transportation won a $25 million federal grant last year to kick-start the development and announced plans to move the Amtrak station to a temporary location uptown within three or four years.

The total cost of the Gateway Station project in Charlotte has been estimated at up to $200 million, and with the Charlotte Area Transit System spending $1.2 billion to extend the Blue Line and the $500 million Red Line commuter rail project to Lake Norman in limbo, it’s unclear where the funding would come from.

Smith said that it’s important for the region to start figuring out how to create the transit systems it will need for the next century. And, he said, creating a major uptown transit station would spur development all along Trade Street and other nearby areas.

“This will create 20 years worth of development sites,” said Smith. “I don’t think there’s a project we’re going to be working on in the next 25 years that has more leverage, more potential for framing our city.”

He also called for more regional cooperation. Issues such as the Interstate 77 toll lanes have put a wedge between Charlotte and many in the Lake Norman area.

“For us to achieve a lot of the vision of 2030 (transportation planning), we’re going to want to extend further regionally,” said Smith.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo