DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES -One day in the future, Union Station will be a hub for high-speed trains zipping up and down the state. It will be tightly connected to Downtown neighborhoods and cultural attractions. It will be easy to navigate with better access for pedestrians and cyclists. The 1939 building will do all this while maintaining its historic charm.
When and how these things will happen is uncertain, but they are among the main goals for the Union Station Master Plan. On Tuesday, Dec. 4, Metro discussed these and other concepts with more than 200 people who packed the Metro Board Room.
The hour-long presentation was the “community kickoff” in the years-long process of creating the Union Station Master Plan. At the meeting, Metro officials reviewed some of the work that has already been done by the agency and the team of Gruen Associates and Grimshaw Architects, which was selected in June for the $4.1 million contract to create the plan.
The gathering was the first of several large community meetings Metro will hold as the master plan is developed.
“What’s been most exciting is the level of discussion about the station and the really big thinking about what this station means to L.A. and how it can help shape L.A. and its connection to transit,” said Jenna Hornstock, Metro’s project manager for the master plan shortly after the presentation.
The master plan will serve as a long-range roadmap for the rail hub and 40 surrounding acres of land, much of which is undeveloped. Metro bought the 72-year-old station and the property for $75 million in April 2011.
The property has about 6 million square feet of secured entitlements, which are “very flexible,” Hornstock told the crowd. This, she said, means future development could include commercial and residential projects or other uses.
Debra Gerod, a partner at Gruen Associates, explained that the project is currently in the “data collection and analysis” stage. The next step, she said, will be to come up with ideas about how to accomplish the overall goals. A final plan is expected by summer 2014.
Currently, about 60,000 people a day use Union Station. Metro is planning for a time when 100,000 people are expected to pass through it daily. Officials hope they will use the building, rather than stream through on their way to somewhere else.
“Right now people mostly use Union Station without really knowing they’re using Union Station,” Gerod said. “They come in on transit, they leave on transit and they never really experience the station in a broader way. Right now it’s a tangled knot of transit and we could have a wonderful station with great amenities.”
The process to date has included meetings with local stakeholders about their concerns and ideas for Union Station. Metro officials said so far they have heard a desire to bring more retail to the station, a goal to create a connection to the Los Angeles River and a wish to make the station a destination unto itself.
Metro officials said some people complain the station is isolated from the rest of the city and that it can be difficult to navigate. Concerns were also expressed about security and safety.
“We’re processing everything we’re learning and trying to figure out what’s the best thing to do with this information,” Hornstock said.
Audience questions about the master plan on Tuesday ranged from how many jobs would be created by development projects at Union Station to how transportation information could be made more accessible online, and whether development would focus on maximizing profits or increasing ridership.
Hornstock said there are no specific answers yet to many of the questions since the project is in the early stage, but she said as far as development goes, Metro’s goal is to support ridership.
George Yu, executive director of the Chinatown Business Improvement District, attended previous meetings with Metro and neighborhood stakeholders. He was also at the Tuesday event. He said so far the master plan is on the right track.
“I think this was a good opportunity to give the public a game plan for Union Station,” he said. “We need this to be a destination. This can no longer be just a transit hub.”
Jody Litvak, community relations manager for Metro, said one of the most important things agency staffers learned from the meeting is that people realize the importance of Union Station.
“I think it’s really clear that there is a lot of passion and interest in and around L.A. about this whole place and people just want it to be better,” she said.
Contact Richard Guzmán at firstname.lastname@example.org.