Eight months away from the scheduled completion of the renovation of Union Station in Springfield, Amtrak officials toured the work site today with the goal of providing suggestions to make the $88.5 million publicly funded project a success.
Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, the driving force behind the Springfield Union Station restoration, wants to utilize Amtrak’s Great American Stations Project to assure that visitors to the refurbished station will enjoy the same vibrancy and elegance that rail travelers did more than 50 years ago.
"We don't want this just to be a museum," said Neal. " We want people to use it for a variety of activities."
Neal said he is looking for Amtrak’s advice, drawn from experience with other station restorations around the country, to recover, restore, and display artifacts such as the original station clock, blackboards that were used to display railroad timetables, benches, and wooden luggage carts.
Another goal of the $88.5 million project is to make Union Station a center of activity to serve as a catalyst for economic growth.
Patrick Kidd, of Amtrak, amidst the clamor of construction work, said that he sees a lot of potential in the plans local officials have for Union Station.
" I think anybody involved in this project realizes that it is a vision that is 20,30, 40-years down the line how it came impact the neighborhood and surrounding areas," he said.
Kidd cited several examples of what other cities have done with their restored train stations to attract visitors to their downtowns such as using for public art displays, pop-up markets, and a center for annual events that may now be happening someplace else.
After the restored Union Station opens, Amtrak will promote it as part of the Great American Station initiative.
" We want to share with others who are interested in projects like this. It will be a great inspiration to them," said Kidd.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, who embraced the Union Station redevelopment when he took office 8 years ago, is counting on it, along with the MGM casino being built about a half mile to the south, to anchor the rebirth of downtown.
" Sometimes you have to jump start things with public investment and that starts private investment coming in, "said Sarno.
There are plans for 16 additional trains a day to stop in Springfield after track improvements are completed north of Hartford in about a year.
Union Station is projected to see five million people a year pass through it.