Work crews installing Metro's signature hexagonal bricks on the platform at New York Avenue for a station's scheduled opening Saturday are putting the finishing touches on an unusual structure.
The new Red Line stop amid the rail yards north of Union Station and south of Rhode Island Avenue NE will serve about 1,500 passengers a day to start, making it among the least-used in the area's transit system, Metro officials said.
But the District leaders and Metro officials who have been planning the station -- the first one to open within the original 83-station network since that system was completed nearly four years ago -- hope the stop will prompt construction of high-tech firms, government offices and apartment high-rises on the neighborhood's undeveloped land.
"You often hear about transit-oriented development, but this is development-oriented transit," said John D. Thomas, the station's project manager. "In a few years, the landscape will be considerably different. This area is ripe for redevelopment."
The station, officially named New York Avenue-Florida Avenue-Gallaudet University, is partially funded by private firms and showcases a sleeker, more modern look.
Two more stations, at Morgan Boulevard and Largo Town Center on the Blue Line in Prince George's County, are scheduled to open next month.
Virginia leaders are planning to extend Metro through Tysons Corner to the Dulles area. Metro and the District are building a light rail line through the Anacostia area.
Beyond those, Metro's construction plans are less definite. "In terms of there being dirt moving and bricks and mortar and things like that, there's going to be a lull" compared with the first phase of the transit system's history, Metro chief executive Richard A. White said.
There are ideas to extend service down the Route 1 corridor and on Columbia Pike in Virginia, and between the inner Maryland suburbs and north along Interstate 270.
For that to happen, White said, deals such as the one that brought about the New York Avenue Station probably would need to be struck.
When the idea for the $103.7 million station was raised in 1998, businesses near it offered to tax themselves to take out a 25-year bond worth $25 million toward its construction. If property values rise after the opening of the station, which has entrances on Florida Avenue and on M Street, the businesses will receive a tax credit. The federal government paid an additional $25 million, and the city paid $53.7 million for the project.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), an early backer of the project, said the financing plan is "the real model for transportation infrastructure" as the city tries to regenerate some of its rundown corridors.
The business community that he and other city leaders envisioned has started to appear.
From the station's 30-foot-tall platform, riders can see the Capitol dome off one end and the headquarters of XM Satellite Radio to the northwest. Near the station is the former Peoples Drug warehouse, a refurbished building that provides office space for about 1,000 city workers. A giant hole in the ground next to the station, where cranes are busy at work, will be the headquarters for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is set to open in 2006 and house 1,100 workers.
Much of the rest of the area remains potential. A former Woodward & Lothrop department store building next to the station sits largely empty. Abutting that is an open field that Akridge Co. bought this year with the hope of creating 2 million square feet of mixed-use development, firm officials said. Across several Amtrak tracks on the other side of the station, warehouse-size buildings await renewal.
"I think development is moving out New York Avenue, and the activity you're seeing there at New York and Florida with ATF and other developments will be complemented by Metro and allow it to continue and propel it," Williams said.
Metro officials said growth in the area will combine to bring as many as 10,000 daily passengers to the station by 2020. In the meantime, they have predicted, passengers will be drawn from existing businesses, the nearby bus terminal, Gallaudet University and the neighborhood near the station. They also expect passengers to connect by Metrobus to a new stop on Florida Avenue.
Hugh Panero, chief executive at XM Satellite Radio, said it was the station fulfilling his hopes of being in a place "tied into the vibrant nature of the city" that made him choose New York Avenue over other sites.
"Having a Metro stop across the street is one of these catalysts that brings people, brings commerce and brings development," said Panero, who has been running a shuttle between XM and Union Station for his workers. "I think it enriches the whole area."
In designing the station, Metro managers aimed to remedy some flaws. To address chronic problems with escalators and elevators, they built four escalators with paralleling stairs so the failure of one, or even two, won't halt foot traffic. And for the first time, a station will have multiple elevators so that shuttle buses don't have to ferry riders between stops if one elevator breaks.
Instead of the heavy concrete canopies that adorn other outside stations, New York Avenue will have airy arches of glass and painted-white steel that allow sunlight to gleam through.
The platform glows at night under 288 lights, and has 112 speakers so passengers can hear station announcements.
It's the Metro station equivalent of converting a boxy, 1970s apartment into a trendy loft, officials said.
"There are so many cute things at that station," said Metro Assistant General Manager P. Takis Salpeas. "This is the next generation of station designs." The new Blue Line stations will have the same amenities, he said.
Another novel feature at the New York Avenue Station is a bicycle trail running alongside its tracks. Metro workers have almost completed 2,000 feet of the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which is planned to run eight miles along the Red Line between Silver Spring and Union Station. A separate staircase and elevator just outside the station will serve bicyclists.
Metro officials said they spent many hours rewiring their operation, power and communication systems because the station was in the middle of a line.
Metro also had to separate the two old tracks to put a station between them, so the agency cut out about 1,500 feet of the outbound track and turned the inbound line into the new outbound one. Metro workers also added about 250 feet of track on both ends of the station to complete a new inbound line. Because of that shift, workers had to pick up a bridge over Florida Avenue and move it several feet.
"The level of complexity was off the scale for what we had done in the past," Thomas said.
The complexity also caused numerous complications and delays on the Red Line as it was completely shut down five times between Union Station and Fort Totten, and trains ran along a single track for several weekends.
Metro officials, city leaders and investors in the site said the effort will pay off when the empty lots that have stood for decades turn into the city's next hub.
Developer Douglas Jemal, who owns the former Peoples Drug building, said he looks forward to that transformation. "I think you could just close your eyes and let your imagination take hold of it," he said.