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With its spacious, airy interior and strategic location on the western edge of downtown, an old Dillon Supply building can become more than a place to board trains.
It can also serve as a catalyst for redevelopment in the warehouse district, home to several old buildings awaiting new life as the city seeks to transform a former industrial area.
Those are the findings of a citizens group and city planners who spent months investigating a possible renovation of the vacant building, which used to be a steel fabrication shop.
The review concluded that Raleigh can qualify for help from state and federal sources for $35 million in improvements to upfit the building for Amtrak service.
The passenger rail task force voted 10-to-0 to send a letter endorsing the site to Mayor Nancy McFarlane and City Council members, many of whom have previously expressed optimism over the project.
“Economically, it makes a lot of sense,” McFarlane said in an interview. “When the state is willing to step up and do a large percentage of the funding, it’s a worthwhile investment on our part.”
An earlier plan called for building a new complex in downtown to serve riders on buses, light rail, local streetcars and interstate trains. Called Union Station, the facility would cost at least $150 million.
But the Dillon idea gained traction as Raleigh leaders shifted toward less costly options to meet current and future transportation needs.
‘A real showcase’
With some renovations and a few new elements – benches and a ticket counter, for starters – the Dillon building can offer space for a waiting hall with a ticket counter, food court-style restaurants and shops, and secured entrances to the train platform.
“It has a lot of potential to be a very dramatic building, a real showcase for Raleigh,” said Will Allen III, who chaired the task force.
The building, owned by Triangle Transit, would replace the city’s current Amtrak station, a cramped depot smaller than its counterparts in Cary, Selma and High Point.
The initial phase – renovating the building and adding an 800-foot platform for Amtrak – would cost $35.2 million, with track and signal work adding $12.2 million, based on preliminary estimates. A second phase would require $6.5 million to accommodate Southeast high-speed rail.
The city has set aside $3 million for the project, with much of the rest expected to come from the state and federal governments.
Plenty of questions remain. The city must figure out where to locate bus services for Greyhound, Triangle Transit and local CAT routes.
The station does not match up with the current layout of the Triangle’s proposed light-rail system, meaning passengers would have to walk two blocks north to board light-rail trains near Morgan Street.
But advocates say the Dillon building can become a significant piece of the transit puzzle.
The side facing downtown would be renovated with a glass facade offering views of the skyline. Visitors would enter through an outdoor plaza along West Street, an area known for its collection of art galleries and the new Contemporary Art Museum.
As street activity picks up, surrounding blocks would become more attractive for redevelopment, says Martin Stankus, a senior planner with the city who helped pitch the Dillon building as a potential site.
Stankus recalled how modest streetscaping work helped prompt a resurgence in the Glenwood South entertainment district. Imagine the impact of a much bigger project, like a train station, he said.
If the City Council votes to endorse the site at its January meeting, the Department of Transportation’s rail division would embark on environmental studies required for the project to move forward.
In its pursuit of federal money, the agency hopes for a favorable response from the Obama administration, which is seeking to modernize the country’s aging passenger rail network.