Whether the decor is faux '50s silver and neon or authentic greasy spoon, diners are classic Americana, down to the familiar menu items. Rich, poor, black, white--all rub shoulders in the vinyl booths and at formica counters. We explore the enduring appeal and nostalgia of the diner.
D.C.’s Union Station is more than a commuter hub to Washington. Millions of people pass through it every year to travel, shop and eat. It was only a few decades ago that the station underwent a badly needed renovation. Now conversations about how to revive and reconfigure Union Station for the 21st century are starting to come together.
- David Ball President, Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Union Station is many things to many, many people. It's an architectural gem from which millions of tourists coming into the city by train or bus get their first glimpse of the Capitol Dome and maybe a quick bite to eat at Chipotle. It's where scores of commuters make a mad dash for MARC and VRE trains to the Metro each weekday.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd its retail shops lure locals looking for a last-minute gift on their way to a birthday dinner. But being many things to many people does take its toll. And after a renaissance in the late '80s, many complain the station has become worn down, overcrowded, difficult to navigate. But all that scaffolding and all those orange barrels will go away eventually. The question is whether a vibrant 21st-century transit hub -- an integral part of the community -- will emerge when they do.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss the future of Union Station and the redevelopment taking place there is David Ball. He is president of the Union Station Redevelopment Corp., which is a nonprofit organization created by Congress to restore the station and to protect the federal government's interest in the property. David Ball, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID BALLGood afternoon. Glad to be here.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, too, you can call us at 800-433-8850. What changes would you like to see at Union Station, this transit hub? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make a comment there. David Ball, Union Station is a place where the interests of the federal and local government agencies and a number of businesses all intersect. How does the organization that you, head of the Union Station Redevelopment Corp., fit in to that mix?
BALLWell, as -- our corporation, we always say the Union Station (unintelligible) or the Union Station itself, and one needs to understand Union Station is owned -- the building itself is owned by the federal government as well as the parking garage. Both the federal -- both the parking garage and Union Station, the building itself, have been leased through our organization. And we in turn have leased the Union Station, which is the retail area where Amtrak tracks are, Amtrak station, as well as the retail.
BALLSo that area, we lease it out to develop it as the day-to-day operational responsibilities for the station, and we manage the parking garage. So, going back to your question, how do we fit in, because so many people come to Union Station and we're surrounded by the city, you know, basically, and there's people using -- coming out of Union Station so the question comes up and -- you mentioned beginning of the broadcast, the yellow barrels out in front of Union Station. This is just one idea, one instance.
BALLColumbus Plaza is under construction, but that's a multi-jurisdictional project. The building is owned by the federal government, which we oversee. The Columbus Plaza is the National Park Service, so they have jurisdiction there. Massachusetts Avenue is owned by the District Department of Transportation. They have the AOC, which is on the outside. So in order to get this project done, it was a four-agency project, actually, to get the Columbus Plaza done.
BALLAnd when the general public comes into the station, they really want to be able to come from the front door, do their business, purchase train tickets or bus tickets, make a purchase, get something to eat and then go about. So they really don't care about how all these different jurisdictions actually oversee Union Station, but they really want to have a one-stop situation where they come in and clearly can enjoy themselves. So we sort of set into position sort of managing that to make certain that the public can move through the building as easy as possible.
NNAMDIThe matter of fact that you can repeat all of those entities that are involved in it indicate that you've been involved with this for a very long time. That's a lot to remember. The Union Station Redevelopment Corp. is a public/private partnership set up for the running of Union Station. What role does Amtrak play in all of this?
BALLAmtrak is the rail line. You know, they bring the people from New York down to Washington, D.C.
NNAMDIWell, you got MARC coming in there, too, VRE coming in there, too.
BALLYeah. Well, it's interesting. If you take a look, our charter was really to restore Union Station, number one, to an operating railroad station and then to make certain it was economically viable. That's our introduction or tie into a developer. If you go back to the early '80s when the station was basically abandoned and rail service at its lowest ebb...
BALLRight, 1981. Correct.
BALLSo we took over and came in -- it's 1984 -- again, with the responsibility of restoring it to an operating railroad station. So that is one of our missions -- to make it a railroad station, make an intermodal transportation facility, as well as a retail generator.
NNAMDIAnd you have been with it since 1984.
BALLYes, I have been. So I'm very proud of the time that I've had at Union Station, seeing so many changes, watching everything grow. I mean, I think the station has really been truly successful, and it's been so successful to the point it goes back to how you opened this session up, in terms of the number of people come to the station, the crowds that are in the station, the type of retail activities. It's just been growth, but the station physically can't get any larger, you know? And that's -- there's some really significant changes, and that's really where we're at that point right now.
NNAMDIDelegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton has been critical of the stewardship of Union Station, saying it lacks oversight, which seems to be the very thing that your organization is tasked with providing. She has asked the Department of Transportation inspector for a yearly audit of -- because she feels that we need to know more. She said she doesn't recall that they had any hearings on Union Station after the renovation in the 1980s. You never leave a massive government property with the feeling that nobody is watching it. Well, you're the one who's supposed to be watching it, correct, David Ball?
BALLRight. Our organization watches it. We're governed by a board of directors of which the secretary of transportation sits on the board. He's the chairperson of the board. And this year, we're chaired by the Deputy Secretary John Porcari. The president of Amtrak is on the board, as well as the mayor of the city, president of the federal city council and the administrator of federal railroad. And we undergo financial audits every year, you know, so we'll end up with a clean bill of health financially...
NNAMDIWell, the transportation department inspector general is in the middle of an audit of your organization's book even as we speak.
NNAMDIAny reason for you to be nervous?
BALLNot that I know of.
BALLNo. Like I said, I believe that our financial situation is very clear. We have some challenging things which are coming, which are on the horizon, which will put a significant drain on our resources, revenue resources. And then you mentioned before the changes going into the station where we've undergone -- since 1988, the station's open over 20-plus years, and right now, we're in the process of going through what we call a building assessment study, you know?
BALLIs the building physically capable, you know? Our air handling units need to be replaced, you know, so we're taking a look at this. If you take a look at the master plan concept and which goes on, we'll have some major responsibilities in that area. Initially, what our organization was responsible for was really the retail lease at Union Station, overseeing the developer's lease, as well as the garage operation -- operation parking garage.
BALLAnd our mission has really grown since that time in terms of -- you mentioned before how do we coordinate all these items. Well, 20 years ago, there was not a lot to coordinate, you know, because we were the large animal in the northeast section of Washington. Development occurred as a result of the Union Station both over a period of time. So I think what will happen is that when you go through an audit process like this, depending what type of questions they ask and depending how our mission may look, I think we've grown more in our mission, you know, than initially.
NNAMDIAnd we want to know if there's going to be a budget to accommodate that. In case you're just joining us, we're talking with David Ball. He is the president of the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, which was created by Congress to restore the station and to protect the federal government's interest in the property. We'd be interested in hearing from you. 800-433-8850 is the number to call.
NNAMDIDo you have concerns about the changes going on at Union Station? What changes would you like to see there? Do you go to Union Station often? What brings you there? 800-433-8850. David Ball, don your headphones because we're going to go to the phones and start with Anna, who is in Southeast Washington. Anna, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANNAHey, Kojo. How -- I want to let you know I'm an old friend of Mona Evans. I hear you guys are close.
NNAMDIOh, she's my homie, yes.
ANNAHold on one second. I got to put it back on -- I had you on speaker. I love Union Station, but in weird way. My situation is probably a little unique in that I have a 4-year-old son. It is -- I will do anything to not leave the Hill if possible. When we go to Northwest, he asks if we're in another city.
ANNASo going to the mall elsewhere, you know, is tricky and finding things to do with your kid on a rainy day or on a day when you're just sick of being outside or whatever, we go -- we watch the trains. We watch trains. We watch trains. We can even drive all the way around and park on the backside of the trains -- past CNN. We go to the mall. We run around. We get a $1 ice cream cone at McDonald's.
ANNAAnd he thinks he's died and gone to heaven. I'm going to take him to get his shoes polished. There's something that is still classy and fun about Union Station. It's the best Lucy yoga store anywhere, easy to shop at. It just -- it has so much potential, and it has so much beauty and style. And it's fun, and it's a great epicenter for activity.
ANNABut it's -- you know, between the tourism and the buses and the duck boats and the commuters and the sturm und drang and the weird food court downstairs. And it's just constantly weird things. I couldn't get a -- we're going there to go see a movie one day, and the movie theater was gone. Like, there's something very weird about that place, but...
ANNABut since I've had a 4-year-old -- you know, and at Christmas, we watch the little trains. We run. We watch the big trains. We watch the little trains. I mean, if...
NNAMDISo you're suggesting that, despite the fact that you think there's something very weird about this place, that's what, in your view, makes it so attractive?
ANNAMagic. It's -- I mean, it gives the old broad a facelift. The flow is all wrong -- the layout. You know, if you want a decent magazine also, that's the only other place -- that's the only place you can find a decent magazine. If you want something outside of, like, the five they offer at CBS, but...
NNAMDISo what advice would you offer to David Ball for the renovation?
ANNAWell, first, David, I would put a coffee shop in that probably has an external entrance over the train tracks, near the train tracks, put a train beam inside, sell coffee, have free wireless...
NNAMDIWell, let's stop right there for a second because, David Ball, you can tell her who has jurisdiction over the train track and maybe some plans to do some development over the tracks, correct?
BALLCorrect. You've asked several different questions, so I'll try to go back over what you've said. The movie theater has been gone for at least two years, and it was result of -- when it was first put back in in the early '80s, it was the best theater in D.C. It was the only multi-service -- multi-cinema complex in the city, but since that time, we had the Gallery Place and also Georgetown theaters open up, so the concept of a theater just doesn't work anymore, not at Union Station.
BALLThe screens were too large. So they've been gone. And you're correct. The flow in Union Station is relatively tight. We're in the process now of looking at a master plan for the whole Union Station facility, which would include signage and (unintelligible) and help one move back and forth to the station. And I'm glad your son can find the trains. There's a lot of people that come to Union Station, can't see the trains just the way the station is laid out.
BALLPart of the development concept of our retail developer that -- a group called Union Station Invesco, who has responsibility for the day-to-day leasing and management of Union Station, they are looking at bringing new products into the station. You mentioned they brought Chipotle in there, Potbelly. So they're changing the retail venue and the marking aspect. And what their process now, which is called the Section 106 process, which actually looks in terms of making significant changes to the historic fabric of the building.
BALLThey'd like to remove the Center Cafe in Union Station. And what the removal of that Center Cafe will do, will allow you to be able to walk straight to the main hall and move back towards the station where the trains are. Amtrak is actually in the process...
NNAMDIOh, a lot of people think that Center Cafe is so cool.
BALLYou know what? It is cool when you're up top. But if you come through the Union Station -- when Burnham really laid the station out back in 1907, there was certain accesses. So you could walk through the station very clearly, clearly understand where you're going. But these uses of the station has changed 'cause in 1907, the main hall was the waiting area for trains and traveling. And in the next room was actually, which is the concourse -- the retail concourse is actually where you boarded the trains.
BALLSo there was no confusion when you came through Union Station. You came in on the west side, was where the ticket counter was, well, actually, where you purchased your tickets, you dropped your baggage. And on the east side where the mezzanine-type retailers, that was a fine dining area. So we've changed the location. We changed uses for the main piece of the station. So historically, the main hall has always been great. But what we'd like to do if the Center Cafe is moved, it gives a whole different look and view of the station.
NNAMDIAnd Amtrak owns the train rights. But developer Akridge owns the air rights over 15 acres of the tracks. Is that correct?
BALLThat is very correct. Amtrak owns -- and you start out -- again, this is part of how you had to coordinate this. So when you go through the gates to board your trains, Amtrak owns the land that the tracks sit on and the catenary up above it. You go above that catenary to a space and the things like elevation 80, Akridge owns 14 square feet of -- 14 acres of air from Union Station to the 8th Street Bridge, all the way down to K Street Northwest. That's, I think it's, like, eight acres on the Southside, six acres on the North side, that air space is owned by Akridge. They purchased it in 2006 through a GSA...
NNAMDISo that's who Anna needs to be talking to if she wants to talk about development that takes place above the tracks.
BALLShe can talk to them. She could talk to Office of Planning. She could talk to NCPC. Everybody has a concept of how this should be used. Akridge and Amtrak have worked very well together for about the last year and a half, developing a plan to redevelop that area. But even their plan has to be coordinated with our office, as well as with WMATA, because we all have pieces of jurisdiction in those areas but...
NNAMDII got to take a break, so, please, allow me to interrupt you. David Ball is president of the Union Station Redevelopment Corp. If you have called, stay on the line. We're talking about the future of Union Station, the renovation, redevelopment that's currently taking place there, what will take shape and how long the redevelopment is going to last. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. If the lines are busy, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with David Ball, president of the Union Station Redevelopment Corp. It's a non-profit created by Congress, the purpose of which is to restore the station and protect the federal government's interest in the property. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Here now is Taylor in Washington, D.C. Taylor, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TAYLORThanks, Kojo. I appreciate the time. I have a question for David Ball. First of all, kudos for David and the Redevelopment Corp. They've done a great job down there. I've been here for 20 years. Presently, my group -- my corporate group is looking at a P3 on a smaller scale train station and was wondering if you had any guidance as to what critical action steps should be taken in the very beginning of this P3? And, secondly, I'd like to know if I could talk to him off line about some other critical point.
NNAMDIWell, before you hang up, Taylor, we will put you on hold and have our telephonic administrator take your number so that David can call you back, if necessary. But here's David Ball.
BALLGood afternoon. Do you have trains which actually come into the station now?
TAYLORI'm sorry. Say that again.
BALLDo you actually have train service at the station now?
BALLOK. I would try to say on this case, you don't have to duplicate Union Station because you really can't. You just need to understand what your constituents want in that area. And in some case, you have to understand that you may have to take an economic loss to restore sort of some type of -- to restore the station back to what it wants to be. But it's an action that you have to work with the community and sort of understand what you want the end product is -- what you want the end product to be.
TAYLORYeah. That's very well put.
NNAMDIAnd, Taylor, I'm going to put you on hold so we can get your number and pass it on to David Ball so that you two can connect later after this show. We got an email from Richard, who says, "During the past year, the west hall of Union Station has been turned into an extension of the food court downstairs. It's now congested, smelly and littered as a consequence with two more fast food joints going in this summer. Plans for the future of the main hall call for the removal of the center cafe in the name of sight lines.
NNAMDI"The center café, especially the upper-level seating, is one of the nicest places to eat and wait at the station and to enjoy the beauty of the building. The drawings for the future of the hall promises what in exchange, benches and holes in the floor? Who are making these decisions?" The holes in the floor have to do with, I guess, you're looking to put two escalators into the main hall.
BALLThat's correct. And in terms of turning the west -- what we've done, we've hired the developer which actually takes a look and tries to figure out what is -- what does the market want? Who wants to come to Union Station? Who's eating at Union Station? You look at the food court. There's one type of food they have downstairs. What they've put in the west hall is considered, like, fast casual.
BALLIf you find the west hall is somewhat crowded or jumbled, we really need those type of comments -- (unintelligible) the comments. You can either email us directly. You can email our office. You can send letters to the D.C. State Historic Preservation Office 'cause we work with them in terms of what the character of the building is and how people feel when users come through. So without your comments, we don't know how well the station is doing. But, for instance, what was in the west hall -- well, for each -- well, in the west hall, there are three stores that were actually moved.
BALLBut these new stores have actually created almost five jobs for each job that was lost in terms of early -- in terms of retail there. So you had a store that had, like, four employees into it now. And Chipotle must hire close to 20, 25 people. So what we've done, we've also opened up the job ability for more people to work, more job opportunities. And on the center cafe, again, if you take a look in our website, that's part of the section 106 process.
BALLAnd that way, you can actually send in and write in your complaints or concerns, and we we'll work with that. But, again on the center cafe, again, some people love it for what it does, other people don't like, you know. So it's a toss-up. But, again, this is a public process we go through in terms of changing the historic fabric of the building. And, again, those items can be, I guess, talked about in our section 106 process.
NNAMDITwo escalators into the main hall leading to the new retail on the bottom level of the building, that's what you're looking at doing right now. The space under the hall, it's my understanding, where the now-closed movie theater was, is currently sitting empty.
NNAMDIAnd there'll be restaurants, retail or restaurants.
BALLThe developer has not exactly decided at this point. We do believe it will be some type of dry retail as versus a food service, but that could change. Yeah, that could change. That has not been decided at this point.
NNAMDIHere is Caroline in Washington, D.C. Caroline, you're on the air with David Ball. Go ahead, please.
CAROLINEYes. I want to know, what did you do with A. Philip Randolph's statue? That is historical, and it had a place there outside of the bookstore. But I went -- I looked for it the other day, and it wasn't there.
NNAMDIFor those who may not be familiar with who A. Philip Randolph is, he was the legendary leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which was the union representing the, well, sleeping car porters. But which he was also one of the main movers behind the renowned March on Washington in 1963. He is now, of course, deceased. Here is David Ball.
BALLThank you for that. A lot of people show a lot of interest when they come through Union Station. Different things they see each day and they really want to understand how -- where it is. A. Philip Randolph is back in the train concourse. He's just a little bit to the west of the Starbucks, relocated between the Starbucks and the card shop, you know. So that's where he is. The statue was relocated as construction was moving on overhead, so the statue would not get damaged. But as of last Wednesday, the statue was back in its location.
CAROLINEThank you very much.
NNAMDICaroline and thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us, 800-433-8850. We're talking about development at Union Station, or redevelopment, and seeking your input. Are you someone who passes through the station? Or do you tend to spend significant amounts of time there? Call us, 800-433-8850. David Ball, nearly 100,000 people make their way through Union Station every single day. Is it possible to make them all happy?
NNAMDIWell, that's your job, not mine.
BALLYeah, we can -- let me...
NNAMDII'm glad you're optimistic.
BALLYeah. You know, let me just break that down. We have close to 1,200 -- 12,500 inner-city passengers which come through Union Station on a daily -- and that's the one, the Amtrak trains. Then we have VRE which sends close to 4,000 people a day through Union Station. Then we have MARC which is the greatest contributor to rail passenger ship. They send something like 35,000 per day.
BALLBack in 1997, it was 18,000 from MARC. Today, again, it's like 35,000 people per day which just comes in. And then you have Metro which sends close to -- I think they're close to about 45,000 people a day which is Metro coming in and out of Union Station. So you have a lot of people coming in and out of the station on a daily basis.
NNAMDIOh, well, right now, for the uninitiated, Union Station is crowded, and for the uninitiated, it can be difficult to find your way around. Are there plans to make that space easier to navigate? I can't tell you how many times people have stopped me in Union Station -- I guess I look like an employee or something -- and asked me where they can find one thing or another.
BALLIt's tight. It's very tight. That's one of Amtrak's major concerns right now in terms of how to make the concourse area where you actually board the Amtrak trains, the ability to make it work. Amtrak has some great plans for the future in terms of being able to ease the congestion within the link structure. And we're working on that. We have a couple plans in terms of actually moving walls within the station over the next couple years. But, again, you have to understand that things don't happen -- things happen quickly.
BALLBut at this construction process, it takes a little while to go forth. In the main hall, the historic aspects of the building, you have to go through the historic review agencies. We're a little bit better in the concourse, and we do have plans to actually open up the concourse walls to allow people to move back and forth much easier. But you need to understand, as I went through this ridership increase, that both Amtrak/MARC and VRE ridership have increased significantly over the last period of time.
BALLAnd then if you add in that the relocation of inner-city buses to the parking garage -- and we're talking about the Bolts and the Megabuses -- that's another 3 million people a year, which come to Union Station as a result of the movement of inner-city buses. Those 2 million people weren't there a year ago, so it is tight at this point.
NNAMDIAnd somebody else -- Debra in D.C. writes to ask, "How come Greyhound does not move into Union Station? I see all the people walking from Greyhound to Union Station, and it's terrible."
BALLGreyhound will start the construction of their terminal at Union Station -- I want to say -- actually, the design has already started, so we hope to have Greyhound up and operational by September of this year.
NNAMDIBut doesn't, like, Greyhound own BoltBus?
BALLIt's like a family.
BALLYou have the brother and the sister, OK?
NNAMDIOK. Here is Marilyn in Northwest Washington. Marilyn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARILYNOK. I have been hearing a lot -- I use the trains occasionally, but I use Metro a lot more. And I've been hearing about changes in the Metro part of Union Station. And I'm wondering if you can shed any light on what is happening there?
BALLThe Metro -- the north entry of Metro, which you're actually out on First Street, we call it, like, walking into a little mouse hole or prison hole to actually reach First Street. Metro has plans. They've already got a budget approved to start a design process in that area of that north entry to Metro where the two escalators come down from the Amtrak level. They have had plans to put in the stairwell in there. They plan to rearrange in the fare gates so that it makes it easier come in and out.
BALLAnd they also plan on actually -- the concept is really to blow open that wall, so as you come down the escalators, you can actually walk out and see First Street to bring more light into it. We're also working with DDOT in that area 'cause DDOT also has money to do First Street improvements, to improve the sidewalk on First Street. So I would say, within the next year, you actually see -- should see some construction moving forward where this whole north entry to Metro will actually make things work better.
MARILYNYeah, 'cause that entrance -- that exit onto First Street is -- that is -- I use it quite often.
BALLAnd, you know...
MARILYNIt leaves something to be desired.
BALLAnd the number of people there is really an attribute to, again, more modest growth and the growth of NoMa. The area north of Union Station had a number of apartment buildings, a number of office buildings sort of going in that area. So if you look again, 10 years ago, we didn't have that same type of traffic. So we didn't have that type of traffic heading down First Street. We didn't have the same type of rail traffic that gets off of -- gets off of MARC. And a lot of people, which come through the entryway, are not catching Metro.
BALLThey're really getting off MARC trains, walking down the escalators, heading out to First Street so – as a pass-through. And we understand the problem. And, again, when we started this project out, we talked about the ability to coordinate different agencies, so a project like that is a coordination between Amtrak, WMATA, the District and also our office. And we're moving forward in that. As I said again, the WMATA and the District has already passed the (unintelligible) for 30 percent funding for the actual design work through that area.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Marilyn. We move on to Howard, who is in Clifton, Va. Howard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIHi, Howard. It's your turn. You're on the air.
HOWARDOh, great. Thanks. Good morning. I want to first mention that one of my relatives, Howard Woodson, was an architect on -- who helped plan Union Station. But I'm calling to urge our guest to include on his master plan the objective of making Union Station or transforming it into a world-class secure facility. I think that's very important, not only for the people who are in Union Station, but because it's so close to the Capitol and the center of government.
NNAMDISecurity issues that you have to face, David Ball?
BALLThose are tough issues. As you can see out in front of Union Station and part of Columbus Plaza, we have -- we're putting security bollards out in front of Union Station for security items. Amtrak is very concerned about security within the station. They work with TSA to ensure safe passage of people back and forth through Union Station. And as Amtrak goes through their massive planning process, they're also working to include security items.
BALLYou know, it would be great if you could separate arrivals and departures. You know, right now, in arrivals and departures, they enter the same gates. So part of their plan is to see how you can separate arrivals and departures. But we are concerned about security. There's a lot of different plans, which are going forward in terms of making sure it's safe, station is safe and secure as our people walk through the station.
NNAMDIHoward, thank you for raising that issue. Making your way around Columbus Plaza, which is, of course, in front of Union Station, has been likened to running a mogul's course with your car or bike. And walking around the expanse is treacherous because work on the space is underway. But some have asked why it took so long to get underway.
BALLThere's not a good reason other than the fact that, again, you have different types of ownership. And we had go through -- any work that's done out in front of Union Station requires approval from the historic review agencies, either the Commission of Fine Arts or NCPC or the D.C. (word?).
NNAMDINCPC is the National Capital Planning Commission, by the way. Yes.
BALLYeah. You know, so you go through these type of processes. In terms of going before these agencies, they actually make your plans better. They make you think a little bit harder. They take the historic aspect into it. They take the safety aspects into it. And that's really where it took a little while to get supported. Then again, it's several different jurisdictions in the area.
BALLAnd those that might not understand, you do have WMATA tracks, WMATA subway, which actually runs in the west side of Union Station. Amtrak's tracks go in the east side of Union Station. And it was just a concept in terms of how do you bring all these different entities together and come up with a plan that they all approve...
NNAMDIAnd the National Park Service gets involved, the District Department of Transportation, Amtrak, Metro, the Architect of the Capitol, all of them involved...
BALLAll of them are involved.
NNAMDI...in what happens around Columbus Plaza.
BALLBecause they all have ownership. They all own different pieces of property.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Anna in Ellicott City, Md. Anna, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANNAHi there. I'm talking about the people at Union Station, not the real estate.
ANNAMy grandmother was Mrs. Elsie Palmieri, was social worker for Travelers Aid Society at Union Station from 1936 to 1966. And I visited Union Station quite a few times to see her. She was working nights by then in the '60s. So she saw, as her tales told, the new dealers, the World War II with the government girls and all the military and the building of the Pentagon and the migrations of African-Americans up to D.C.
ANNAAnd what Travelers Aid Society did as a social service agency to reconnect people and people who had lost their money or their children or their spouse or were in physical or mental trouble. And I'm wondering what your guest would say about providing such a service now.
NNAMDIProviding what kind of service exactly?
ANNAA social service like Travelers Aid Society.
NNAMDIOh, I got you. OK. David Ball is on it. Here he is.
BALLTravelers Aid is still in Union Station. They never left as long as I've been there.
ANNAI've tried several times to find them because I wanted to show them mementoes of my grandmother's distinguished career. She's known as -- was known as Mrs. P. And I have china from Mark...
NNAMDITell Anna where she can find Travelers Aid.
BALLThey're located in the Amtrak link structure by the Amtrak information desk. But they are in the link structure, Union Station, probably around Gate D or E.
ANNAThey're not very well signed because I asked -- several times, I've asked all around. How active are they?
BALLThey're there -- I don't want to say they're 24 hours, but they're doing the operation of Amtrak services.
NNAMDIAnd you now know where you can find them. Anna, thank you very much for your call and good luck to you.
ANNAThank you. Bye.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. We're going to continue our conversation with David Ball, president of Union Station Redevelopment Corp. You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a favorite memory of Union Station, as Anna did, or time of day to visit, call and share it with us. 800-433-8850 is the number. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with David Ball, president of the Union Station Redevelopment Corp., which is a nonprofit created by Congress to restore the station and to protect the federal government's interest in the property. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850, or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Here is Derek in District Heights, Md. Derek, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIHey. Hello, Derek.
DEREKListen, I feel very well served by your informative guest. He seems very knowledgeable. Let me share a concern that I have of the growing -- about the growing trend in America to use public dollars to develop resources that are then turned over to the private sector. We've already had conversation about the airspace over the track that Amtrak owns being in the hands of private developers.
DEREKAnd I'm concerned about such a beautiful resource as Union Station remaining in the commonwealth and for the good of all people without the burden of having to create profits for private entities.
NNAMDIFunny you should bring that up, Derek, because the mayor of the District of Columbia has a seat on its board -- that is, the Board of the Union Station Redevelopment Corp. But the corporation is in the midst of a lawsuit against the city over the collection of city taxes on retail space in the station. Tell us a little bit about that, David Ball. The city obviously believes that if this is retail space and it's located in the District of Columbia, regardless of whether or not it's located in a federally owned property, that the taxes are due -- sales taxes are due and others to the District of Columbia.
BALLI can only tell you a little bit about it because it is a pending litigation.
BALLBut sales taxes are paid, so the sales taxes are paid on a regular basis. Any other place pays sales taxes. This is really dealing with the possessory interest tax, which deals with...
NNAMDIThe city passed legislation that allows the city's chief financial officer to tax privately leased space within federal facilities. And that adds more than $1 million to the lease payments in the form of taxes. In 2010, the corporation asked the District Council to forego $33.5 million in payments through 2035. No such luck, and that's why you're in court right now.
BALLAll those are correct, sir.
NNAMDIAnd, Derek, what do you say about that?
DEREKWell, I do believe that publicly developed resources should inure to the benefit of the commonwealth and that we're in a time when we really need to be very clear about that. I look at NASA as an example of how the hopes and dreams and tax dollars of Americans over the generations is now being turned over to private corporations. And I'm concerned that Amtrak and the resources that serve Amtrak are on the same track.
NNAMDII see what you're saying. Well, I guess that is one aspect of the issue that this lawsuit is all about. But thank you for sharing your thoughts and your concerns with us. Cynthia emails to ask, "Is there still a post office at Union Station? If so, where?"
BALLThe post office was relocated to the lower level of the Union Station. If you're coming off the Metro area on the south end of Metro and come to the doors, it's across from -- or next to where the shoe repair place is in the lower level.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Rebecca, who says, "I used to live right near Union Station, and I would take the Metro home and walk under the front awning, staring at the lit Capitol. Gorgeous." Elaine emails to say, "Let's hope the taxi exit from the front of Union Station will soon be squared away. What happened to the exit straight out to the right instead of endless circling around to the left?"
BALLYou're not the only person who's asked that question. When Columbus Plaza gets redone, taxis will be able to actually pick up in front of Union Station. There'll be a new intersection, which will be -- so they'll be able to go up directly out from Union Station to E Street. There will no longer be a wraparound within Columbus Plaza, and it should probably cut maybe seven to 10 minutes off of a taxi ride just leaving Union Station.
NNAMDIOur historic preservation experts are on board with the proposed changes. I imagine some might not be in love with the idea of cutting into the floor in the main hall.
BALLThe historic preservations are well, alive and working with Union Station Redevelopment Corp. as we go through this process.
NNAMDIThey're not objecting. A lot of people have a stake in the success of Union Station, but not everyone wants to put up the money to make it happen. How will all of these projects be paid for?
BALLGood question. Our money -- our revenue that we derive from the operation of the station, as well as from the parking garage, are basically used to do capital improvements within Union Station itself. When you talk about this master planning for work that's over top of the railroad tracks or for Amtrak's improvements, that's a whole separate set of funding that Amtrak and Akridge or the city will pursue.
BALLBut for work within the station, we have our budget set up for capital improvements within Union Station. But the master plan really needs to take a look at all the activities which occur in the Union Station precinct, the work that WMATA wants to do to improve their area, Akridge's work, the work that needs to go on to continue down in the NoMa area.
BALLAnd once you put all of these different plans together, including DDOT's concept of bringing the street car along the 8th Street Bridge, we have to funnel all these different issues and really take a look and understand what the economic benefit of it is, that the type of money that goes into the jobs that are created and just the true benefit of what comes out of it. So -- and that's what part of this planning process would do, allow you to understand you put X number of dollars in, what we actually get out. When I say you, I'm really talking about the city, in return.
NNAMDIWe got both a tweet and an email concerned about restroom. Lauren tweets to ask, "Why is there only one restroom for all the trains? Are there plans to add more?
BALLThere are plans to add more. We're planning on putting in a whole bathroom facility on the bus deck, which will handle the inner city bus passengers. And, remember, I mentioned before that we had 3 million more people coming to the station over a short period of time. Amtrak has plans to improve their bathroom services within the link structure, but more immediately, again, will be the bathrooms will be placed up in the parking garage to accommodate the inner city buses.
NNAMDIAnd Nancy emailed to say, "I haven't heard a word about bathrooms, especially women's bathrooms. It's a large area and one on each floor is, at the very least, not convenient. What you are saying, David Ball, is there will be more.
BALLThere will be more. And, again, when the station was laid out, we did not have the same population of use at the time. So the bathrooms are much smaller than the number of people which come through Union Station.
NNAMDIHere is Al in Northwest Washington. Al, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALGood afternoon, Kojo.
NNAMDIGood afternoon, Al.
ALGood afternoon, Mr. Ball. And, Kojo, I'm a longtime loyal listener.
NNAMDIThank you very much.
ALOK. Mr. Ball, could you, please, think about putting in a full-service theater for movies, theatrical plays, dances for the D.C. community? You know, every time there's a presidential inaugural, there's a party there, and I think that would be great for the area.
BALLCorrect. If you want to touch base with me after the show, I can tell you some of the reasons why it's relatively difficult. Again, we did have a movie theater in Union Station one time, and the concept of our space for a movie theater did not work. But that does not mean that we could not explore your idea a little bit further and see if they -- we can actually move towards that.
NNAMDIOK. Al, thank you very much for your call. We move on now to Chris in Washington, D.C. Chris, your turn.
CHRISThank you. First of all, yeah, kudos to Al. I agree with him. Please take that seriously. I want lots of bike parking everywhere. It's frustrating. I live fairly close. Getting to that one bike parking area, it's a bit of a hassle. So lots and lots of bike -- another thing, easy access to the public buses, and sheltered. Shelters for the public buses and easy access -- pedestrian access.
CHRISIt's always confusing getting there, what bus -- where do I go to pick up my bus? Can't there be one place for all the buses to go by rather than some right in front of Union Station, some there on Columbus Circle or Mass. Ave. or whatever it is? So simplify access to buses, lots of bike parking and, yes, second -- I second Al. Thanks.
NNAMDIAnd here is Roberta's email. "I cycle from downtown and pass Union Station en route to my Capitol Hill home with the construction. It's harrowing, and I'm forced to ride on the sidewalks, which irritates pedestrians. Will a safe cycling lane be included in the paving around Columbus Plaza?
BALLCorrect, there will be. And as part of the master plan, what they really want to do is be able to have a direct connection with the Metropolitan Branch Trail all the way up. I know it drops off down by about K Street, a little bit south -- a little bit north of K Street. But the concept with the widening of 1st Street, which is a DDOT project, is to actually bring the ability to take your bike all the way up to Union Station without the hazards you just mentioned.
NNAMDIChris, thank you for your call. Here is Jay in Silver Spring, Md. Jay, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAYYes. I have two questions for your guest. The first one is, are there any long-term plans to restore any of the tracks, one through six, to facilitate the MARC train commuter operation? And the second question is, does the station and Metro have any long-term plans to add more capacity to the escalator -- the single escalator at the north end of the platform?
BALLThe quick answer is yes to both your questions. It's part of Amtrak's master plan. They do plan on bringing the tracks on the western side down. I think they're bringing tracks five and six closer to the building. It requires relocation of some Amtrak facilities which are in the area, and that's part of the master planning process. So that question is yes. And Metro does have plans to increase the ability to exit people off the platform, specifically on the north end of the platforms.
NNAMDIJay, thank you very much for your call. Some local business owners, who operate or used to out of Union Station, came to the fore last year when a popular liquor store was moved downstairs to make room for a Pret A Manger on the main level. Do you have any say in which companies go where? That would be a yes. I'll take that. So why did you allow this to happen?
BALLThank you for answering for me. We don't have a lot of say. We deal, again, with the character and the quality of the product that's being delivered. If you take a look at that corner of Union Station now, it's a little bit brighter, a little bit more open. And, again, we go back and take a look at the number of jobs that have been created in a situation like that.
BALLWhere the liquor store may have had five or six employees, Pret A Manger must probably have at least 15 people on the hour as they move through. So it's a cost-benefit idea. Did we gain something? The liquor store is still in the station, still in operation. But we think we brightened up that corner of Union Station a little more.
NNAMDITony emailed to ask, "Please ask your guest if Union Station will raise more platforms so that they are wheelchair accessible. Reliance on crank lifts seems very outdated.
BALLThat is part of Amtrak's plan. They are actually working to improve the ADA required at Union Station, so that's part of their master plan.
NNAMDIAnd, finally, we go to Irvin in Washington, D.C. Irvin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
IRVINHello, Kojo. How are you?
NNAMDII am well, Irvin.
IRVINGreat. Hello, David. I'm a proud graduate of Howard University, and I want to salute you because I think you brought a lot of honor as a graduate of the political science department in the School of Urban Planning to the school and continue the good work.
NNAMDIThat's it? You didn't call to criticize him?
NNAMDIYou don't have any complaints about Union Station?
IRVINDavid has done a yeoman's job in that position, I think.
NNAMDIYes. And I suspect he -- not only you Irvin but Howard University is also proud of David Ball, not to mention his mom 'cause you grew up here in Washington, D.C.
BALLFourth generation Washingtonian.
NNAMDIFourth generation Washingtonian. So you have seen Union Station throughout the course of your life in several different iterations.
BALLI used to transfer from the 52 bus to the 80 up in front of Union Station.
NNAMDIAnd now you are in charge of what happens there in future, and we will be holding you accountable in the future. But, David Ball, thank you so much for cooperating and for joining us. David Ball is the president of the Union Station Redevelopment Corp. It's a nonprofit organization created by Congress to restore the station and to protect the federal government's interest in the property. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
As D.C. drafts rules for registering personal trainers under a 2013 law, we examine what your trainer needs to know to help you meet your fitness goals.
D.C. Council Member and Chair of the Committee on Education David Grosso joins us to discuss local public policy issues, including the challenges facing D.C. Public Schools.
Scientists are warning that communities near the Chesapeake Bay are at risk because rising sea levels. Last week, public officials joined environmentalists to explore how businesses and institutions in Annapolis, including the Naval Academy, could be affected by rising waters and potential floods. Join Kojo as explore what communities are doing to prepare for the potential effects of climate change throughout the Chesapeake watershed.