Monday, December 18, 2017

Penn Station: Finally development?

Amtrak doesn't have the world's fastest trains and its development decision making isn't super fast either. Requests for  proposals to bring Baltimore's Penn Station up to modern times were issued several times, presumably for various levels of pre-development planning. In August of last year Amtrak announced that this time it would really mean it and solicit a master developer in a two step procurement process. It require a record fast six week turn-around for the initial submittal. The proposer had to provide comprehensive design-build and operate services:
Penn Station seen across the track area where a
new concourse is suggested (Amtrak)
Amtrak is seeking interested parties capable of all aspects of project delivery including an implementable Master Plan, design, construction, financing, operation and maintenance of non-rail assets at Baltimore Penn Station, as well as expansion opportunities and commercial development of the surrounding Amtrak owned properties. (Amtrak)
In November 2016 Amtrak shortlisted three teams and in December 2017 the winner was named. The three contenders were:

  • Penn Station Partners, led by Baltimore's Beatty Development Group, the developer of Harbor Point. The team also includes Armada Hoffler Properties, a frequent Beatty partner, and Bill Struever's Cross Street Partners.

  • Peebles-AZ Baltimore Penn, led by the Peebles Corp., a private company based in Florida that is one of the nation's largest minority owned development, with projects that include a major transit-oriented project in Boston and a Washington office building that includes Amtrak offices. It is working with Baltimore's AZ Group, New York investment management firm MacFarlane Partners and Baltimore's Williams Jackson Ewing and Marks, Thomas Architects.

  • Brandywine Realty Trust, a real estate investment trust headquartered in Pennsylvania, which has been working on the station master plan in Philadelphia. The team led by the firm includes Baltimore architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross, Baltimore's Pinkard Properties, Bethesda's Clark Construction and Madison Marquette, a Washington firm with projects that include 1 Light Street in Baltimore.

In 2013 Amtrak had already worked with Beatty Development on a master plan for the station and surrounding areas. At the time Beatty's architect was the local firm of Ayer Saint Gross. In the new configuration Beatty's chief architects are Gensler architects, the world's largest architecture firm which also has a Baltimore office. Gensler has extensive transportation and TOD experience. ASG changed to Branddywine Realty Trust. Whatever the reasons for the switch, it did work out for Beatty whose team was now selected as Penn Station Partners.
Concourse rendering with above view of Penn Station in background

The press release distributed by Amtrak includes a rendering showing some modern train hall some new construction with the historic station visible thorough the windows, possibly located somewhere above the tracks. Nothing is disclosed regarding the scope of development beyond the station itself. One has to assume the project includes the development site to the north but it is not clear whether any of the additional sites identified by ASG in the original masterplan are included as well.

Penn Station in Baltimore, Union Station in DC, 30th Street Station in Philly and Penn Station in New York are all considered for major overhauls including transit oriented development.  Penn Station in NYC is the most advanced with construction of the $1.6 billion project now officially in progress.

Amtrak also issued a request for a master-developer  for the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia last year. It appears that the station work with its private public partnership and design-build-operate approach is further along than the upgrade of the Northeast corridor overall. In order to truly achieve the speeds and service which European,  Chinese and Japanese passengers have been using for years various tunnels (such as the Baltimore B&P tunnel) and bridges need major upgrades. Those improvements still go through environmental impact statements (EIS) and are not funded.  Fueled by steadily increasing Amtrak ridership between NYC and DC, Washington DC and Philadelphia have seen massive redevelopment efforts near their stations for years. In Baltimore the pace is decidedly slower with the 103 apartment Nelson Kohl on Lanvale Street across from the Amtrak site nearing completion. The 32 unit Station North townhomes developed by Somerset Development designed by ArchPlan Inc. in 2007 and the 1209 condominiums at Charles and Preston originally developed by Struever Brothers were early harbingers of transit orient development and the notion that Baltimore could be a market for people who live here and work in DC. Those project pale in scale compared to the possibly 1.6 million square feet that the Amtrak TOD could bring.
Rendering of the new Moynahan Station in NYC (SOM)

The selected Penn Station Partners development team under Beatty Development includes a host of  firms, many Baltimore-based, including the property management company Armada Hoffler Properties, William Struever's development consultant Cross Street Partners, engineering giant WSP USA (formerly Parsons Brinkerhoff), specialty rail engineers Network Rail Consulting, the construction company Mace Group, the real estate service firm JLL, economic development consultants HR&A Advisors, architectural historian Charles Belfoure, architects Cho Benn Holback (now Quinn Evans), the investment bankers of Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, the engineering firm RK&K and the design studio of Younts Design.

Much of the design and precise team responsibilities is still a matter of negotiation. WSP's website provides a few anchor points of what the development entails:
The proposed mixed-use development that could bring as many as 1.6 million square feet of development to the area. Preliminary concepts include a hotel in the historic station head house, as well as office and residential space to the north along Lanvale Street connected by an expanded concourse with new retail opportunities. Specific details regarding the development’s scope, design and phasing will be the focus of future engagement between Amtrak, the selected developer, stakeholders and the public.
Amtrak advised that a more detailed briefing on the specifics of the project would be made available "in the first quarter of 2018". One of the questions on the mind of Baltimore could be how investment around Penn Station would work in the context of two competing high speed rail connections that the Hogan Administration supports: A Maglec connection to DC with a station at the southern end of the city near Port Covington or Westport and a Hyperloop proposed by electric car wunderkind and futurist Elon Musk. Both technology projects would not serve Penn Station.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

related story on this blog:
New Hope for Amtrak TOD at Penn Station? (Aug. 2016)

Breaking News regarding Amtrak service in Washington State:
A new higher speed Amtrak train called the Amtrak Cascades using the $800 million Point Defiance bypass route near Seattle derailed this morning during its inaugural journey and fell from an overpass onto Interstate I-5. Injuries and casualties have been reported. Trains on the refurbished Sounder commuter route can reach 79mph.

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