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Restoring Union Station good news, but project first has to get on track



November 15, 2007

GO Transit commuters would be big winners if a proposed redevelopment of Union Station unveiled yesterday comes to fruition.

“If,” though, remains the operative word, despite buoyant remarks from Mayor David Miller at an event held yesterday to sketch out plans to renew the landmark transit hub that serves nearly 200,000 commuters a day.

Key details are absent on the price tag, estimated at several hundred million dollars, the project’s multiyear timetable, and the identity of public- and private-sector investors.

Some information will be released at council’s executive committee this month.

Yesterday, though, the focus was on design changes to make it easier for transit commuters and visitors to move in and out of the Beaux Arts building on Front Street.

For example, the proposal calls for a massive expansion of the area available to GO Transit, to 11,700 square metres from 900 square metres at present.

With GO expected to double its number of riders over the next decade, the commuter rail service would be relocated to the east and west wings on either side of the VIA concourse.

A series of stairs would be added to make it easier for GO commuters to reach their trains.

The project also calls for construction of a new retail shopping mall beneath the existing concourses.

Officials declined to provide an estimate of the cost of digging down between five and 10 feet, which would require federal heritage approval.

The proposed excavation means TTC commuters could walk directly into Union Station’s new retail mall, which would mark a six-fold increase from current space.

In addition to adding new exits for commuters to leave the station northwest to downtown and south to the new Maple Leaf Square, the plan calls for new east-west corridors to be punched out on the lower level.

The proposal unveiled yesterday will go to council for approval next month.

“This is a great facility that has languished for 50 years,” Mr. Miller said. “We have the chance now to bring it back to its former glory but to make it a destination where people want to go, where people choose to go, not just have to go.”

He said GO Transit, VIA Rail, the TTC and senior governments will be asked to put up funds for transit upgrades.

The mayor said pension funds will be invited to invest in the retail mall, with some of the profits used to defray more than $190-million in repairs needed over the next 20 years.

“Informally, a number of the leading pension funds have been spoken to,” he said.

Councillor Doug Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre), who had backed an earlier, failed bid to renew the station, was hopeful, but skeptical about the latest prospects.

“We make so many announcements over things and nothing seems to happen. It is rather disappointing,” he said.