Imagine Union Station with more amenities, including local food outlets and retail options with a second garage and eventually nearby residential and commercial development that continues the growth unfolding downtown.
With the help of multiple state and federal grants keyed to transit oriented development, the city unveiled its latest plan for the train station that is growing exponentially in terms of passengers who now include reverse commuters who come to New Haven to work.
"From the city's perspective, it can't just be a garage. It would be very detrimental to the Hill-Downtown plan if we just had a wall of parking along Union Avenue," said Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy at the Development Commission meeting Tuesday.
The 39-page report from Goody Clancy is an update of a 2008 plan that was derailed when the Great Recession swept the country and stalled over Connecticut.
Additional parking at the station has been needed for a decade, but it is even more pressing now that Live Work Learn Play has a deal to develop the former Coliseum site used by parkers turned back from the current 880-space garage at Union Station where there is a 450-person waiting list for monthly users.
In addition to upgrading the interior of the station, the preferred option is to put up a second 645-space garage at the north end at a cost of $14.8 million that would be wrapped with a privately financed residential liner building. There also would be some additional commercial development space at both the north and south ends of the current 7-acre site on Union Avenue.
The other option is to put up a 820-space garage with ground level retail at a cost of $22.3 million that eliminates the separate liner building. It is more costly because of the facade needed for a garage to accommodate the retail.
One example of a liner building in the city is the wrapped garage at 2 Howe St. built by Yale-New Haven Hospital that hides a garage with some residential and commercial uses.
Murphy said it was important to have development on both sides of Union Avenue as the Police Department building will eventually be replaced as will the Church Street South development across from Union Station.
The plan proposes that the state approve a Union Station Development Authority to replace the current lease agreement through 2017 with the city.
New Haven would have a seat on the authority where the state would have the biggest voice. The authority would be responsible for marketing and overseeing development, while it would also have the power to float bonds.
Deputy Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli said the plan furthers the station's role as an economic catalyst for the city and the state, laying the groundwork for a future mixed-use development.
The proposal comes as the city is transitioning to a new mayor, Toni Harp, after 20 years with Mayor John DeStefano Jr. at the helm. Harp, a state senator for 21 years, ran on a platform of being able to get more cooperation from the state than her opponents and several members of the Development Commission thought this plan was a good start.
Harp said she wants to study the plan further, having seen it for the first time Tuesday, but she said it looks like a good option, particularly if current revenue from the station can underwrite bonds to support the changes. The mayor-elect said it dovetails with the changes proposed for the former Coliseum site.
Union Station, with 740,902 riders a year in 2011, is the 11th busiest in the country just behind San Diego, California and just ahead of Wilmington, Del. It is the busiest in Connecticut, well ahead of Stamford with 385,000 passengers and will be the southern terminus for the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Line.
Piscitelli said the plan has been worked out in collaboration with the state Department of Transportation Bureau of Policy and Planning as well as the Office of Rails and was underwritten with several state grants aimed at transit-oriented development. Other funding came from the New York-Connecticut Sustainable Communities Consortium, which is a bi-state collaboration to promote integrated housing, economic development, transportation and environmental planning.