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    Apr 1, 2008

    Terminal Square, rail hub for Western Michigan

    Been pondering lately on how downtown fits into the rail transit puzzle .... so here comes a favorite of mine .... conceptual proposals!

    Amtrak already terminates on the southwest side. Anyone who rides the Pere Marquette knows the station as "the shack," or some other negative connotation. The place was hurried to get Amtrak in GR so aesthetics took a back seat. The Rapid and MDOT are supposed to build a new rail extension from the existing "wye" into the bus station where it will become a true intermodal system. So, you can live somewhere in the near suburbs like Cutlerville and get to the Lake shore just by ridding a bus and hopping onto the 370 and 371 trains.

    A downtown rail hub would create synergy in a part of the region that must to be successful. Existing freight lines converge downtown, so right of ways could provide for future use if the rail giants take on public transit business. That's a big IF, although they have elsewhere and do so now in other communities.

    On the Northside of downtown's Heartside District there are two ciy owned parking lots, Area 4 & 5. There was once a proposed mixed use development for both of the sites. However, that has seemed to go away and will probably show up in the graveyard of downtown projects. Well, maybe it's for the best considering these two parcels may fit into the downtown transit puzzle.
    Move a head a decade and there could be a really great opportunity for downtown and the region. The entertainment district just across the street currently provides for a regional draw in Western Michigan. Now, the Gilmore Collection wants to add to their locally famous entertainment portfolio with a mixed-use 20 story tower just three blocks north. People go down there by the hundreds of thousands annually for the night life, concerts and sports. Considering that this district is pulls from the suburbs transit will definitely need to play the role in facilitating greater regional participation for the growth of that area.

    Meet Terminal Square, a high profile mixed-use development with a small addition -- a rail hub connecting downtown with the Western Michigan region. At the center of the development is a mixed use tower. Think of a smaller Cleveland's Tower City concept. In the tower are living spaces, offices, and a vertical mall. On the lower levels are a terminal and concourse where rail lines converge from all across the region. A private-public partnership will facilitate construction of a station on the lower levels of the tower on the Area 5 lot. According to preliminary study of the site, there is enough room for up to five rail lines which should be more than adequate for future growth.

    This section of downtown makes for an interesting place for a train terminal as it is close to the action, yet close enough to existing rail lines. The rail infrastructure from most corners of the metro converge southwest of these two properties, a few thousand feet away. Extensions could be routed into the terminal.

    The trains would enter the terminal from the south via raised tracks on a berm of earth through Heartside Park. About more than half of the park space would be needed for the trackway. The building on the northern end of the park would need to be razed. The reason for elevated tracks is to allow flow of traffic to and from US131 and Cherry St. A major block of traffic could occur during dwell time at the station. To minimize the height of the berm, Cherry ST. SW could also be depressed into a partial subway under tracks so that the elevation grade doesn't have to be so high.

    Once the passengers arrive they have direct connections to private taxis and streetcars. They also would have the amazing vertical mall with energy of downtown at their feet. If they need local and express bus service to the nearside neighborhoods and suburbs riders can make a short walk to The Rapid's surface transit center just to the southwest. The future streetcar could connect the station and terminal to circulate downtown visitors troughtout the rest of the central business district.

    The Area 5 lot would be developed in conjunction with the public and private sector. Some kind of partnership would allow for a developer to gain the valuable land at a significant discount, but as a stipulation must build a terminal into the development. The passenger traffic would provide an incredible economic incentive for retailers, businesses, and entertainment venues to locate in this tower. MDOT and a newly formed "Rail Transit Authority" under the Interurban Transit Partnership could secure funds to route new track to the terminal.

    This development could represent a creative and positive partnership between the private and public sectors (something Grand Rapids is famous for.) There are currently many surface lots surrounding this development that may someday benefit from the critical mass a development like this could bring.

    Get this thing on track!
    Post a commont to the blog or send mail to railtransitgr@gmail.com.


    Anonymous said...

    Nice! Do you think there would be a way to incorporate a full-size train terminal into the ITP station though? It seems like that would be a little bit more feasible. (And there could be some cool opportunities for a great central hall eg Union Station in DC or Chicago...!)

    Brent said...

    Thanks for commenting.

    In the near term its definitely feasible. Especially, if one or two rail lines develop. A terminal could go on the parking lot south of The Rapid's tent.

    A few issues that stuck in my mind was connectivity and development potential. The Heartside Park area seems to offer potential in both. It seems to be more connected to downtown, yet also near many parking lots and areas where development can occur. Passengers would have the bus connections relatively close, yet also be in walking distance of the entertainment district.

    Having that long strip of land south of Cherry could offer much development potential. The empty air space above the railroad tracks could be built over by new office towers, housing, etc. The transit agency could lease its space over the tracks and use that money to reinvest into transit lines. Win-Win. Developer gets to build on a highly coveted area of downtown, the transit company takes the premium.