I just read Jay Evensen's article, "Union Pacific Depot isn't feasible place for transit hub" from Sunday's (April 5) paper and have a few comments.
Evensen says the Union Pacific Depot may cost "tens of millions of dollars" to restore. But the intermodal center planned for 600 West has a price tag of $40 million. And it is possible that some restoration study and/or funding for the depot might be available from outside sources like the Great American Station Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and other foundations supporting restoration projects.Evensen gives the impression that the depot is under consideration because of the nostalgia associated with the building. That is actually one of the weaker arguments for choosing the depot. The fact is that its location is its strength. Because it's in the heart of our city, we will arrive there and be able to move out in any direction toward our destination, unlike the 600 West location, which would require an additional transfer to get into downtown Salt Lake City - a definite deterrent rather than encouragement to using transit.
Indeed, those of us coming into Salt Lake City at the depot would be able to walk out the front door and catch light rail going either north-south or east-west. We could walk across the street to Jazz games at the Delta Center, or up a block and a half to the Salt Palace and in good weather, the new LDS Assembly Hall now under construction. And the view of the LDS temple from the depot's front doors provides a stunning and unique visual backdrop, as does the depot itself when viewed from the other direction.
Evensen uses Derks Field and the coliseum at the Fairpark as examples of "brittle and dangerous" structures that had to be torn down in reference to the depot. What about the City-County Building? That too could have been described as "brittle and dangerous." Does he remember when it was threatened with demolition in the early 1980s? We almost lost that one as well. But the visionaries won out and the handsome building now stands as one of the architectural jewels in our city.
Evensen's statement that a majority of the Salt Lake City Council members favor 600 West was a surprise to me, so I called each of them to confirm the information. As it turns out, a majority of the council members are still undecided and are in the process of requesting additional information on both sites in order to make the best possible decision for the people who will be using the intermodal center. So it's still up in the air.
Contrary to Evensen's view, the land behind the Union Pacific Depot would not be "impossible to develop" with an existing track in place. It has been demonstrated that the track could be brought in below grade and a "development deck" over the track could be built out the back doors of the depot for retail and business enterprises and other intermodal uses.
As for the Amtrak question, currently we have only two Amtrak trains each day, both arriving in the middle of the night. So that point is moot since there is no bus service anyway to transport people from their Amtrak train to their destination at that hour. Also, Amtrak is not really part of the Wasatch Front regional intermodal transit system. Amtrak is an interstate system, much like the airport, and would not be required to be part of the regional intermodal system whose aim is to serve the people who live along the Wasatch Front with bus, light rail and regional passenger rail.
Evensen speaks about the 6-1 with one abstention vote of the Planning Commission members in favor of 600 West as being "easy." Yet it was reported by Rebecca Walsh in the March 27 Salt Lake Tribune that many of the Planning Commission members "seemed unconvinced by their decision" and included quotes from commission members like "it might work" and "it won't be that bad," hardly the enthusiastic endorsement of the 600 West location one would expect from an "easy" decision. And Alan Edwards reporting on the decision for the Deseret News wrote, "without exception, those voting for 600 West said they would have preferred the U.P. Depot location if it were workable."
Whew. I haven't been this defensive in a long time. But Evensen's article cries out for a response. From my perspective, he has presented a view that is really off the mark on this critically important decision.
It seems the information on the feasibility of the 600 West site has been given much more attention than the depot site. What we need is a comparative analysis of both sites, giving them equal consideration and letting the facts speak for themselves. And we need to understand and be explicit about what our priorities are. Is it our priority to maximize the potential for transit to work? Or is our priority to give a clean parcel to a developer? Are people using regional passenger rail going to want to be dropped off on 600 West? Or would they prefer to arrive at the more centrally located depot site?
We're certainly going to need a good transit system in our future. And this critical decision on the location of the intermodal center may well determine the success or failure of transit. The incentives must be in the right place to encourage use. This is an opportunity to give transit the priority it deserves. And if we want it to be successful, we need to look at what will best serve the people of our Wasatch Front community.