Los Angeles County transportation leaders are starting a long-range plan to create a new Union Station. Last month, officials signed a $4 million contract with the team that will help re-imagine the iconic 1939 train terminal.
With all the constant hammering and drilling in the corridors of Union Station, it appears the redevelopment project's well underway — but that's not the case.
Crews are just working to keep the place up as thousands of commuters file along the wide hallway connecting the station's platforms. Lost in the crowd is Mary Jones of L.A. Wearing a business suit, she's on her way to San Diego — if she could only find the right train.
What's really bugging her is the loud, nearly unintelligible PA system.
"Terrible," Jones said with a sigh. "You know, you can't figure out what they're talking about. They announce... 'This train is leaving and that one is approaching,' and everything [is] 'boom boom boom'... so that's my problem."
Jones imagines a new and improved terminal where she can clearly hear announcements. That's less of a concern for Ventura County realtor Dan Waldman, who often travels through Union Station.
Waldman said he's glad the city plans to modernize the 73-year-old structure, "but I hope they keep the art deco feel to the place and the old fashion feel. I like it. I like the gardens here. And the Spanish flair of the brickwork."
Metro does plan to listen to suggestions like these from people who live in nearby Boyle Heights, Little Tokyo and Chinatown.
But that comes much later.
Next door to Union Station at Metro headquarters, the powers that be are gearing up for a planning session this month, the first of many to come.
Martha Welborne leads planning for L.A. County's Metropolitan Transportation Authority. She said you can't talk renovation without talking high-speed rail.
"The high=speed rail platform, [from] my understanding, is that they're 1,400 feet long," said Welborne. "When the trains pull up, if they're full, they let out a thousand people onto that platform. And I think what we need is six of those platforms. ... I may be off a bit, but that's a lot of people."
Figuring out how to accommodate high-speed rail at Union Station will prove one of the biggest challenges. Metro officials said that's why they hired L.A.-based Gruen Associates to help draft the plan. Gruen has a lot of experience working on transit projects.
Another challenge: figuring out how to develop the 40 acres around Union Station that Metro bought last year.
Metro holds entitlements to develop up to 6 million square feet around Union Station, but Gruen partner Debra Gerod said developers may have a tough time deciding how to clear that space to build.
"That's one of the real challenges ... our team is trying to figure out," she said, "whether [those are] exactly the right locations for these developments."
Metro planning director Martha Welborne said taxpayers wouldn't be on the hook for any of those developments.
"It would be the private sector that actually builds out any new office buildings or residential buildings or even government buildings — whatever the plan points the direction for," she said.
Gruen Associates will hammer out the proposed master plan for Union Station over the next couple of years with its partner, the international firm Grimshaw Architects. Eventually they will present the plan to the public and the Metro board.
In the meantime, commuters like Metrolink rider Roxanna Purfoy of L.A. are just trying to find their way around the place. Staring up at the information display, Purfoy said she's just trying to hunt down her train.
"I'm trying to see if they have Lancaster on here and I don't see Lancaster," she said. "I know it should be one up here for Lancaster."
If redevelopment of the historic terminal includes an easier way to locate platforms, she said she's all for it.