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Old Posted Dec 13, 2006, 11:43 AM
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Location: Tempe, AZ
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City talks of train station rebirth
Downtown landmark eyed for shopping, dining

Angela Cara Pancrazio
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 13, 2006 12:00 AM

For more than two decades, the city has eyed the potential of Phoenix's Union Station. With all of its space and its Mission Revival architecture, the 1923 rail-passenger center could be a city centerpiece filled with shops, restaurants and artists, officials have proposed.

That vision never came to fruition.

The last train carrying passengers pulled out of the station in the mid-1990s. In recent years, the station has been inaccessible to the public. There's a security fence ringing the building because Sprint owns it and stores equipment in it.

But lately, with the renaissance of downtown Phoenix, Sprint and the city's Historic Preservation Office are talking about what is the best use for the building.

"Now there's momentum for something to happen," said Barbara Stocklin, the city's historic preservation officer.

From the beginning, Phoenix's Union Station was designed to be a high-profile building in the city's core, Stocklin said.

"Downtown is at a crossroads and Sprint is at a crossroads - that's always good," Stocklin said.

"If Sprint's interested in doing something else, it's good timing."

Sitting on Harrison Street at Fourth Avenue, the station borders the southwestern fringe of downtown's warehouse district. Over the past several years, the district has slowly reinvented itself with a handful of galleries, restaurants and lofts.

"You could do just about anything with the station," Stocklin said.

It could be restored for its original use, she said, as a commuter rail station and a transportation hub with buses and taxis.

Four hundred and seventy-five feet long and 110 feet at its widest, the station has the potential to become a destination place, said Brian Kearney of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, and could easily be a home for restaurants, a museum, galleries and retail.

Many Union Stations across the country have been demolished, but just as many cities have found ways to renovate and reuse the buildings. The name - Union Station - was created as a common name when the Southern Pacific railroad and the Santa Fe railroad consolidated their passenger depots into one "union" station.

Examples of how cities that have adaptively reused their stations are:

• Kansas City's Union Station is a science museum and Amtrak terminal, and has restaurants and shops.

• St. Louis's Union Station has a light-rail stop outside and has a shopping mall and hotel.

• Temple, Texas, has converted its rail station into a transportation museum and Amtrak stop.

• Dallas' Union Terminal is now a transportation center for Amtrak, light rail and commuter rail.

• Los Angeles' Union Passenger Terminal still services Amtrak, as well as heavy commuter rail, and has restaurants and shopping.

• Tucson's rail station is now an Amtrak stop, museum and retail center.

• Flagstaff's rail station is now an Amtrak stop, regional tourist bureau and car-rental station.

Many of these conversions, Stocklin said, have been accomplished with federal transportation enhancement funds, a required set-aside program from federal highway dollars since 1991.

These dollars are still available, Stocklin said, and could potentially be used for a conversion of Phoenix's Union Station as well.

Phoenix's is on the city's Historic Register.

"The best thing is they've (Sprint) maintained the building," Stocklin said. "They've been the steward of the building."
^ Good news overall. However, I hope "transportation" remains a primary focus.

If commuter rail is ever truly instigated, a legitimate link between it and our new light-rail system is a must. Some dandy new museum and more touristy retail shouldn't be the only use (or priority).
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