The Union Station Revitalization Project was approved yesterday (August 5) by Toronto Council with only one vote in opposition, the predictable gadfly Councillor Ford. Media reports claim that a few others might have voted against as well, but they were caught napping in their offices watching the debate via closed circuit TV, and didn’t make it back in time to vote.
Media reports, thanks to the emphasis in the Mayor’s press conference, focus on the new retail space to be created at Union Station, and this was a target for critics who say we shouldn’t be turning the station into a mall. They haven’t been paying attention. (For more details about what we are getting, please see my previous article on this subject.)
Of the total project cost, $640-million, the City is on the hook for about $300-million, some of which has already been spent on necessary building repairs. The City share will be partly covered through payments by the Head Lessee for the commercial space via three payment streams: an up front one-time charge, an annual base rent, and percentage of sales from the retail space. We won’t know the exact details until all of the agreements are in place later this year, and at that time we will also learn the identity of the successful bidder for the Head Lease.
Some opponents of City participation in this scheme argue that this should be a GO Transit project and the City has no business being in the railway station business, let alone creating a new shopping mall. I disagree, strongly, with this position.
First, GO Transit (and its new parent, Metrolinx) has shown repeatedly that it cares only about its own operations as a commuter railway, not about local development. GO would probably give us a tolerably decent railway station, but little more, and would plead poverty to any requests that it enhance the building. We know exactly what GO’s idea of “good design” is every time we walk through their existing station, a bargain basement of fast food and the uninspiring underbelly of a former Post Office.
From the City’s point of view, this is both a major interchange with the TTC (still owned by the City) as well as a gateway to new developments south of the rail corridor. Union Station is the link between the old and new “downtowns”, and is far more than just a train station.
Although I have discussed details of this project before, there are a few diagrams in the Council presentation that warrant comments.
Page 8: This shows an aerial view of the station with the new GO trainshed and glass atrium superimposed. This is part of GO Transit’s work on the station, and that is expected to begin in the fall. Oddly, media reports have tended to emphasize the view from the atrium in coverage of the City announcement, even though this is really a GO project.
The atrium will cover about one fifth of the trainshed area opening it up both for outside light and for views of surrounding buildings from the train platforms. The rest of the trainshed will be rebuilt substantially in its current form (it is an historic structure), but cleaner, structurally sound, with a green roof and with sufficient clearance for future electrification.
Page 9: This shows the existing PATH system of pedestrian routes and the additions that will be made by this project. An important aspect of the “new Union Station routes” (salmon) is that the new two-level concourses will allow for pedestrian flow through the station that does not compete with GO Transit and Via passenger areas.
Also shown on this page is the new Northwest PATH (yellow) that is part of the Union Station project, and about 10% of the total cost. This connection will spread out the load of commuters to and from Union between both wings of the station.
Pages 12-13: Page 12 shows the many routes to and from the GO concourses in the new plan. The vertical arrows in the middle of the GO Concourses link to the shopping level below. Other connections are provided to the Great Hall (thence to Front Street) and to the Bay and York Street teamways. Those teamways can also be accessed directly from stairways leading down from track level (not shown in this diagram). Page 13 shows the circulation routes at the new, lower shopping level including the direct connection to the subway station across the lowered moat.
Although the moat itself does provide another east-west route, the lowered section at the subway entrance will likely discourage its use as a through connection from Bay to York.
Pages 16-17: These pages show the existing and planned cross section of the complex looking east through the west end of the station. The purple section at the south end of the lower concourse is the loading area accessed from the south side of the building. This is visible in plan view on page 15.
Page 18: The diagrams here show the existing and future uses of various parts of the building seen in cross section looking south.
Page 20: The staging map on Page 20 does not include dates as these are still being finalized, but gives some indication of how the work will proceed. Phase 1 takes place largely in areas that are now unoccupied or little-used, and this will produce the new GO Transit West Concourse. Phase 2 builds the south end of the new GO East Concourse behind the existing one, and Phase 3 completes the GO Transit areas. This scheme allows GO to migrate its operations to the West Concourse before the existing area under the East Wing is taken out of service.
Phases 4 and 5 complete work in the Moat including lowering its level at the subway entrance to match the existing subway mezzanine. This revised Moat area is shown in the drawing on Page 22.