State officials and the private developer behind the proposed $500 million plan to revamp Stamford's downtown Transportation Center pitched the project Tuesday as a state-of-the-art facility that would improve the commuting experience for Stamford residents.
A smattering of skeptical commuters attended the public forum, hosted at Stamford High School by the state Department of Transportation and the developer, JHM Group of Companies President John McClutchy. Residents voiced concern over the project's impact on traffic flow and questioned whether the development would provide enough commuter parking spaces.
"When you're a commuter -- in the morning, in the evening -- your life is ruled in minutes," said Stamford commuter Bob Barden. "You have to get to the train; you have to get through traffic. It's going to take longer to get to the station. And we still haven't alleviated the parking problem."
The plan now on the table calls for the demolition of the current, dilapidated parking garage opposite the train station's northbound platform. The complex to be built in its place would include commuter and private parking spaces and more than 600,000 square feet of commercial office and hotel space.
The hotel would offer between 150 and 200 rooms under the current proposal, McClutchy said.
Another parking garage would be built on state-owned property at South State Street near the train station's southbound platform. A third complex would be constructed by JHM on Manhattan Street. The South State Street and Manhattan Street garages would both provide commuter parking spaces.
McClutchy said the project would increase the number of commuter parking spaces available at the downtown station from the current 727 allotment to 1,000. He said he does not yet know how many of those spots would be located in the rebuilt garage across from the northbound platform, however.
"There's going to be a total of 1,000 commuter parking spaces," McClutchy said. "How they're going to be allocated has not been determined."
McClutchy and state DOT Commissioner Jim Redeker said the proposed redevelopment would replace aging, inadequate infrastructure with a vibrant, up-to-date facility linking Stamford's South End and downtown neighborhoods. The pair promised electric car charging stations, improved signage and train schedule announcements, mobile parking payment capabilities and a bustling commercial environment.
"All of this is going to make this area a 24/7 live, work and play destination area," McClutchy said. "It's going to relate to the commuters, it's going to enhance their commuting experience, but at the same time it's going to create other opportunities for the city and its growth."
Residents said they were doubtful the development, which is to include apartments, would entice people and businesses to relocate next to the train station.
"Are there businesses that have expressed a desire to move there after all this is built?" said Stamford resident Martin Kivell.
McClutchy said his company believes the development will attract residential and commercial tenants.
"We've spent a lot of time with marketing firms," he said. "We've spent a lot of time talking to potential users. This is a very desirable area. I firmly believe that transit-oriented development is where this country is headed."
Redeker agreed, describing the real estate around the downtown train station as "probably the most valuable piece of property in the state of Connecticut, at least from a Department of Transportation perspective."
The state is still negotiating a contract for the project with JHM, Redeker said Tuesday. Stamford city officials will have little control over the project, since most of the land involved is owned by the state. The proposed private development on Manhattan Street is subject to local Zoning Board approval, however.
Redeker and McClutchy pledged to include Stamford commuters and residents in the process as the project moves forward.