Public funds eyed for Penn Station project
Developer says private investment not enough
The planned redevelopment of Baltimore’s Penn Station got a boost in April, when Amtrak pledged a $90 million federal investment in station and track improvements and leased an adjacent lot to the Penn Station Partners development team.
But creating a more pedestrianfriendly transit hub, with a sleek new concourse and other upgrades to handle more passengers and a new generation of Acela trains — and surrounding the station with new mixed-use development — will require city and state money in addition to private investment, according to the development team.
“To execute this great Penn Station vision we’ve been talking about, we really need the city and state to join Amtrak in investing,” said Bill Struever, one of the team’s developers. “We need money for that great concourse. … We’re going to need this to be a true local, state and federal investment.”
Amtrak and Penn Station Partners officials presented an update on their tentative plans for the station’s redevelopment to a standing-room-only crowd of about 200 people who packed an auditorium Tuesday night at the University of Baltimore for the second of three public meetings about the project.
The next is set for fall.
Penn Station Partners, led by Beatty Development Group and Struever’s Cross Street Partners, plans to apply for any and all grants, Opportunity Zone funding and tax credits to help pay for the estimated $400 million to $600 million project cost, Struever said. They compared the plans to the renovation of Denver Union Station, which received more than $500 million in city, state and federal support for its renovation, completed in 2014.
The Penn Station Partners team won the bidding to redevelop the station and adjacent properties in December 2017.
There’s been significant private development around Penn Station in recent years with small-scale apartment projects in Midtown and Station North. The developers have cited cited the proximity to the station for Washington commuters, which is also served by the MARCPennLine of the Maryland Transit Administration.
Separate from its $90 million pledge, Amtrak is moving forward with maintenance projects at the century-old station and plans to build a new high-speed rail platform to handle its $2.5 billion new generation of Acela trains, railroad officials said.
DJ Stadtler, Amtrak’s executive vice president for administration, compared the station to Baltimore’s most popular transitoriented development: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where he said he proposed to his wife. The city and Amtrak will both benefit from a redeveloped Penn Station, which is “a key link in our Northeast Corridor,” Stadtler said.
“This is an incredibly important project for us and the city,” he added.
The planned office space in the mixeduse development, far less expensive to lease than in Washington, would be a draw for companies looking to take advantage of the high-speed, high-frequency trains between the cities and the doubling in the number of passengers by 2040, according to Amtrak and the development team.
The station and its surrounding Amtrakowned properties are underused, and developing them will make the station a destination with better neighborhood connections, civic spaces and areas where people can go to eat and hang out, said Tim Pula of Beatty Development.
“There’s the ability to have this continuum of public space from south to north,” Pula said. “We really want to see Penn Station be more than a place visited by 3 million train riders every year.”
The presentation did not include a question-and-answer session, but Amtrak and the development team asked questions on several large sheets of paper in the atrium, providing sharpies and Post-It notes for responses. An online survey has been posted on the redevelopment’s website.
“What uses other than transportation would make the station a go-to neighborhood destination?” one of the sheets asked.
Responses scrawled on the sticky notes ranged from: “Dog park” to “Concert/ Performance Space” to “Farmer’s Market” to “Beer Garden.”
Lauren Kelly-Washington, president of the Greenmount West Community Association, was glad that Amtrak and the developers have continued to update neighbors on their plans. But she thought the presentation was light on details about how they are engaging the state and the city on funding.
“I’m excited for this to happen,” she said. “But it’s the nuts and bolts of the funding that I’m concerned about.”
Eric Norton, policy director for the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a transit riders’ advocacy group, left impressed, but with a similar takeaway.
“It sounds like they need some more money,” he said.