(Updated) Does the good Citrix news mean that Raleigh's grand Union Station plan is dead?

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(In the center) The two large buildings flanking Hargett Street wouldve been redeveloped as Union Station; now the one on the left, north of Hargett, is ticketed for sale.
  • City of Raleigh
  • (In the center) The two large buildings flanking Hargett Street would've been redeveloped as Union Station; now the one on the left, north of Hargett, is ticketed for sale.

[Update, 6/8, 2:30 pm. I've spoken to several city officials now, including Mayor Nancy McFarlane and Councilor Thomas Crowder. Nobody wants to say anything on the record about Citrix. That's all very hush-hush and a real estate deal still to be made. But as to whether TTA told the city that it was planning to sell the warehouse building in the first place, all said they think the answer is no.

McFarlane and Crowder said on the record that that they were not aware that the property was for sale. Both said further that they were weren't told when TTA received an offer nor were they told that TTA was advertising the property thereafter for the legally required 30 days — the upset-bid process — to see whether a better offer was available.

Councilor Russ Stephenson commented on the original post this morning, and I responded to him — as you can see below — with that same question. Did the Council not know that TTA was selling the property? When I called him, he was heading into a meeting, but I'll be checking with him shortly ... just spoke with him: Stephenson didn't know anything about the sale of the building until Monday or Tuesday, when he found out about it in the course of conversation with a county economic development official involved in the Citrix incentives deal.]

The original post follows from yesterday at about 8 pm —

Does the Citrix announcement today mean the city's plan for a grand multi-modal transit station in the Warehouse District — a fabulous "Union Station" — is dead?

I'd say so.

R.I.P. one more attempt to build a great city in Raleigh. Or maybe there's a Plan B?

The upshot of the Citrix news, if what I'm hearing is correct, will be that a light-rail station on the west side of downtown, if and when it's built, would either be cut off from the other transit facilities (Amtrak, the commuter-rail service) two blocks away, or ...

... the light-rail stop will need to be put somewhere other than on West Morgan Street, where it's slated to be.

So dust off all those alt. light-rail routes and schemes (down West Hargett Street; over the Boylan Bridge; sweeping to the south where the Convention Center is) that were considered and rejected not long ago by the Raleigh City Council.

The Council decided on the West Morgan Street route for light-rail — and decided the station location — less than a year ago.

And it endorsed the Union Station plan, which is dated September 2010. You can read it:

Union_Station-MTC_Final_Report_copy.pdf

But if I'm right about Citrix, those decisions will need to be revisited. Because Cintrix wants to be — will be — where the Union Station was going to be.

Through an intermediary, Citrix is apparently in the process of buying a portion of the Union Station site — specifically, one of the two big warehouse buildings that occupies the site — from Triangle Transit, which owns it. TTA General Manager David King confirmed that the building is up for sale.

Meanwhile Raleigh, with its glittering plan for a Union Station not old enough even to have dust on its shelf, is apparently uninterested in purchasing a building that's critical to making its plan a reality.

Ah, well. Maybe there's a Plan B?

***

None of this is official, and in fact the financial support that Raleigh's promised to Citrix is in return for jobs somewhere in the city, without any reference to where they should be.

That said, the evidence that Citrix is buying part of the Union Station site is compelling.

Yesterday, the social media were buzzing about a big deal coming soon to the Warehouse District.

Today, we have the announcement, by Mayor Nancy McFarlane and N.C. Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco, that Citrix Systems is looking to expand its operations in Raleigh. The state is kicking in money in the form of a Job Development Investment Grant. Raleigh's adding money from its incentives fund. The grants are tied to job creation targets. Citrix, the city says, will

... create 339 new, permanent, full-time positions with an average wage of $70,914. The new jobs are to be created over the next five years. In the same time frame, Citrix Systems will make a capital investment of between $11 million and $26 million in Downtown Raleigh to house the workforce of more than 450.

Citrix employs more than 100 people in Raleigh now in an office just outside the Beltline (in Laurel Hills). They want to move downtown into space suitable for 450 or more. Where could that be?

According to the N&O:

The exact location of the facility has not been disclosed. With a vacancy rate hovering around 10 percent, downtown Raleigh has few large blocks of vacant space available. Given the amount of money Citrix plans to invest in the new location, the company may be more likely to renovate an existing property rather than have a new building constructed.

When I heard that Citrix, notwithstanding the N&O report, has in fact fixed on one of the West Street buildings, I called David King. He didn't know anything about Citrix, he said. But yes, Triangle Transit received an unsolicited offer for one of the buildings a few months ago — the one which occupies almost all of the block between West Morgan and West Hargett Streets.

The only part of the block the building doesn't occupy is the little garage that fronts on West Morgan — the Men at Work garage — where the TTA's light-rail stop is supposed to go.

Anyway, according to King, Triangle Transit accepted the offer as an upset bid (a floor), advertised for buyers to beat it, and got no takers. So the building is ticketed for sale to the only bidder, which is a partnership of Cherokee Investment Partners and the Crown Company, King said. He said it's his understanding that they are acting on the part of a "tenant."

That would be Citrix, according to other sources.

The sale is subject to approval by the Federal Transportation Administration and the state, King said, because it was their money — or 75 percent of it — that TTA used to buy it. And if it's sold, they'll get 75 percent of the proceeds, and TTA only 25 percent.

King, for his part, said he was "never that excited" about the Union Station concept, and in any event the building they're selling isn't integral to his agency's plans today.

OK, but it sure was integral to Raleigh's.

***

Raleigh's been eyeing (with the state DOT) another of the warehouse buildings, the old Viaduct Building on the northwest side of the West Street-Martin Street intersection as a potential new home for Amtrak, of an Amtrak-like commuter-rail service that would operate between Durham and Garner, and for the Southeast High-Speed Rail service, should it ever materialize.

There's a second warehouse building on the north side of the Viaduct Building that TTA isn't selling and that is now being looked at, King said, as a potential bus station for the West Side. Stay tuned for news there.

It was that second building and the third one, the one Triangle Transit is selling, that were to be the raw material for the Union Station plan. It called for a two-blocks long grand concourse that would bring together all of the transportation elements, including Amtrak and commuter rail and high-speed rail and light-rail and bus, in one great hall.

The concourse was supposed to be multi-level, with stores and restaurants and perhaps some sort of people-mover — like they use in airports — to help folks get from one end of of Union Station to the other. Could there be offices in there too? Sure. Apartments above? Maybe.

I mean, read the Union Station plan. T'was something:

Raleigh Union Station will dramatically change the look and feel of the west side of downtown. Currently a low-density collection of warehouses and vacant land, Raleigh Union Station stands to change the economic development potential of the area and offers the following advantages:

• Increases transit use
• Establishes a transit identity
• Allows for future modes
• Ties together western edge of downtown
• Anchors the downtown circulator
• Creates a gateway destination
• Maximizes developable space/parcels

And from page 64 of the plan:

The general development concept for the project area is to develop the Triangle Transit owned properties (generally the two blocks bound by West Morgan Street, South West Street, West Martin Street and the rail tracks as well as a portion of the “Wye” interior) as a new Union Station that will provide multi-modal transit services and also include a significant amount of mixed-use development within the development on these properties. The strategy also seeks to surround Union Station with additional mixed use development of sufficient quantity to contribute significantly to the vitality and success of the station and the downtown as a whole.

Yes, It was all pretty conceptual — exception for the location. The location was critical.

But if Citrix buys the third warehouse building and cuts it off from the others, that will mean a passenger arriving, say, on the commuter-rail line from Garner and wanting to switch to the light-rail line to get over to the State Government complex, would be forced to go outdoors and walk around the Citrix building to make the connection.

Or is there another way? King thought there were options other than a concourse — "There's all sorts of ways," he said — to connect the light-rail station to the other rail and bus platforms without going through the building that his agency's put up for sale.

You could go around it on the sidewalk, he said. Or you could build a walkway over it. Or build a grand something or other out over the railroad tracks.

You could do a lot of things, I suppose. But the Union Station plan was a pretty good one when Raleigh Planning and Economic Development Director Mitchell Silver unveiled it. As he told WRAL:

"You want to have a grand waiting hall like other cities – Washington, New York," Silver said. "(It would move Raleigh) to the 21st century to have a grand space for passengers and (for) welcoming people into the city."

If that plan's dead, what's the new plan?

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