Downtown Terminal on Track

August 23,2012

By Tom Sabulis

Skeptics may roll their eyes, but plans for a billion-dollar multimodal passenger terminal downtown – connecting commuter rail, MARTA, light-rail, streetcars and buses — are proceeding. The state department of transportation has allotted $12.2 million for a master design being produced by three firms — Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises, Cousins Properties Inc. and Integral Group, LLC of Atlanta. Officials hope it spurs enough development interest to finance it. Jim Richardson, project manager for FIC, said the terminal could cost roughly $1.2 billion.

I talked recently with two key figures on the project: John Schuyler is a principal with the New York firm FXFOWLE, which helped design new multimodal terminals being built in Denver and San Francisco. Janet Romanic, of the Atlanta firm Cooper Carry, is deputy project manager. FXFOWLE is designing the station in association with Cooper Carry, the lead architecture firm. Fluid plans estimate groundbreaking in 2014, with an opening in 2017.

Q: How is progress moving on the terminal?

Romanic: It’s moving along surprisingly quickly. All the stakeholders – including GRTA, Cobb County transit, Gwinnett County — have been instrumental in helping us understand the needs of their operations and what this station needs to be to work for them. It’s going tremendously well.

Q: Compared with other cities, how does Atlanta shape up as a potential site for a super passenger terminal?

Schuyler: It’s easy to look at these other stations happening around the country and think they have some great advantage that this site in Atlanta does not. But from our point of view, the site in Atlanta has some significant advantages in the way the infrastructure is set up today. The [existing] tracks and the streets are at two different levels, which makes it much easier to provide for connectivity for the streets and neighborhoods…. In Atlanta while there are certainly constraints, there’s actually significantly more flexibility to come up with ideal configurations for the elements and optimize the functional relationships and the urban relationships for the station, to really tune it correctly.

Romanic: This is the site of the original rail terminal in Atlanta, when the city was founded. The original city grew up around that terminal point.

Schuyler: In many ways this location and this opportunity are what transportation development is all about — locating a transit-rich facility in the middle of an underdeveloped urban area that has what we believe are great bones, and having the energy of a transportation center act as a catalyst for revitalization, for increased development and higher density than what is normally found in auto-dependent communities.

Q: The defeat of the transportation sales tax referendum last month supposedly set back public transit. Didn’t that affect this project?

Romanic: This station is completely separate from that effort. It was never on the list [of transportation sales tax projects]. It’s not funded by the list. There are other projects [on the list] we might have liked to have seen gone forward, because they are in proximity or would have made getting to the station a little easier. But that alone will not make or break this project.

Q: What will make or break this project?

Romanic: The continued cooperation is key. We don’t see that as slowing down at this point. We only see it increasing. I think we’re in good shape right now.

Q: What’s the next step?

Romanic: My next step is going to be continuing to present the design options, the three alternatives, to the individual stakeholders, the group. We’ve already had a bus operators meeting attended by close to 20 people representing all the different bus factions — GRTA, Greyhound, Georgia Motor Coach Association. Everyone was there. We’ve released drawings to them, a little more detailed, to get their feedback, so we can take that and start using with FXFowle to look at where can enhance the design to better meet their needs.

Q: You believe it will get done?

Romanic: I would say absolutely we believe. The lead developer on this, Forest City, has 29 TOD (transit-oriented design) developments nationally under its belt. It has three more in construction right now. It has the track record to prove it.