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Big changes are coming to Union Station. Last year, Congress told the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation to come up with a comprehensive plan for the facility, which recieved its last major renovation in the mid 1980s. Planned additions include an intercity bus facility on the existing bus deck, an expanded mezzanine for the metro, and—in a separate process—the development of a giant mixed-use complex over the tracks feeding into the station from the north.
The one that’s really raising hackles, though, is a proposal to cut a 1,300-square-foot hole in the floor of the Great Hall down to the food court below, elevate the existing Center Cafe, and connect all three levels with spiral glass staircases and elevators. The design, reminiscent of New York City’s 5th Avenue Apple Store, is intended to open up sightlines on the main floor and open up access to the lower floor, especially for the disabled.
In comments submitted in early August, the city’s preservation groups universally panned the “pit,” which reminds them of a 1970s experiment that punctured the Great Hall’s floor for a space to screen slide shows. “This recognized mistake must not be repeated,” admonishes D.C. Preservation League president Rebecca Miller. Not only that, but several groups and individuals want the Center Cafe removed entirely.
“Any proposed alterations should restore the original unobstructed views of the Main Hall, and we are deeply concerned about the center of this space being dominated by the proposed circulation module,” writes Nancy Metzger of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. “It would still be a major distraction to the visual and experiential appreciation of the space as well as an obstacle to people crossing the Main Hall to the train terminal, taxi stand, or shops.”
The designs are in the middle of the Section 106 process for review of historic properties, but additional meetings have been postponed until the fall. In the mean time, the Preservation League is using the proposal as a rallying cry for fundraising, participating in a contest for a $25,000 unrestricted grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “We actually hadn’t thought about that,” Miller told Housing Complex when asked how the grant money would be used—primarily to help support advocacy around Union Station, she said, but also for other projects, like the redevelopment of St. Elizabeth’s and the World War I memorial.