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Capital Business
Posted at 12:02 PM ET, 11/20/2012

Escalator proposal for Union Station’s Main Hall stirs controversy

A short-term plan to remake Union Station’s Main Hall may be running afoul of a new long-term vision for a dramatic expansion of the station.

Community groups and historic preservationists have been analyzing a plan by Ashkenazy Acquisition, the company that manages retail space in Union Station, to remove the center cafe in the Main Hall and open up two holes in the floor to provide escalator access to the lower levels. New York-based Ashkenazy controls the retail through a 2007 deal it signed with the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC).

The changes may allow Ashkenazy to coax more shoppers to lower levels of the station, where it is planning to add new shops and restaurants. But the ideas have raised concerns about what the changes would do to alter the station’s historic aspects.

Now there is a new set of concerns: that the Ashkenazy plan would inhibit the massive expansion that Amtrak and D.C. developer Akridge are plotting and which could triple passenger capacity.

In a Nov. 15 letter to USRC president Beverley Swaim-Staley, Amtrak vice president Stephen J. Gardner reminded her that Amtrak’s plan would require changes to the track and platform layout of the station, as well as the existing concourses and the historic station.

Gardner inquired specifically about whether the portals through the floor of the Main Hall could be removed in the future “in order to accommodate connections to the new Central Concourse and future parking below Columbus Circle.”

The National Trust for Historic Preservation took a stronger stance against the portals, with Robert Nieweg, field director and attorney in the group’s Washington field office, writing to Swaim-Staley that if the portals are constructed they ought to be done so only with the expectation that they ultimately be removed.

“It would be a serious error, in our view, to proceed with changes to the historic Main Hall which would foreclosure future opportunities to preserve the historic character and enhance the efficiency of Union Station,” he said.

In an interview, Swaim-Staley said she was not surprised at the interest to preserve the station and expand its transportation capacity. “Everyone wants to make sure that with the announcement of the master plan, that whatever we’re doing in the station is not precluding doing the larger master plan,” she said.

Swaim-Staley said improving the station’s commercial viability was also a core goal for the station, but she said she wasn’t sure yet whether the proposed changes to the Main Hall conflicted with the long-term vision. “I think it’s too early to tell,” she said.

Joe Press, a senior vice president of Ashkenazy Acquisition, did not return a request for comment.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

By  |  12:02 PM ET, 11/20/2012

Tags:  Union Station, Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, Ashkenazy Acquisition, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Amtrak, commercial real estate, retail, historic preservation

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