A small army of suits donned hard hats last week for a sneak peek of the massive renovation underway at the 100,000-square-foot, 500-yard-long Main Street Station train shed.
The Virginia Chapter of SIOR, the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors, held its fall meeting at the downtown train station, giving its members a chance to tour the interior construction that is restoring the 115-year-old structure.
Jeannie Welliver, who is overseeing the project for the city’s Department of Economic and Community Development, addressed the crowd to explain how the project is being funded, why it’s being done and why it’s important for the future of the city.
Welliver said the renovation is designed to have the station ready for the day when high-speed rail routes come through Richmond with routes back and forth from Washington, D.C., and into the Southeast. It’s a long-running process being studied by state and federal transportation authorities, with the idea of higher-speed trains coming in through the Richmond region through Main Street Station downtown and in the suburbs via the Staples Mill station.
The goal is for Main Street Station and the train shed to be Richmond’s version of Union Station in D.C. and Grand Central Station in New York. Its two floors will be able to accommodate rail passengers and be a multi-modal hub for buses, cabs and bikes, complete with commercial space for eventual retail, restaurant and other complementary uses.
Welliver said it’s a vision driven largely by the city’s desire to court millennials and “how they make choices on where they’re going to live, work and raise families.”
“We have to be a city of choice,” she said. “We’re competing with every other city.”
The renovation is part of a $92 million process that began in the early ’90s to study the idea of making the station a hub. Welliver said the bulk of that has gone to construction, but also funded studies, property acquisitions, architectural drawings, restoration of the clock tower and sprucing up the parking lot across the street, as well as the heavy construction that’s ongoing.
The bulk of those purchases, along with the brunt of the construction costs, are fueled by grants funneled down from federal transportation programs.
The city bought Main Street Station, known for its clock tower, in 2004. It then bought the train shed from the state four years later.
Construction on the train shed began in September 2014 and is expected to be completed by summer 2017.
Four Amtrak trains currently come in and out of Main Street Station each day. If and when high-speed rail lands here, 32 trains would use the station each day.
Welliver said there has been some confusion regarding federal guidelines and whether a region can have more than one station taking in high-speed trains. She said those guidelines allow for the coexistence of Main Street Station and the Staples Mill station, which currently gets four times the amount of passenger train traffic each day.
She said the plan for Main Street Station carefully took into account the federal guidelines and it will be ready when the trains come rolling in.
“We’ve already built our train station,” she said. “It’s in the right place.”