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Union Station is quiet now; it won’t be for much longer.
Each day, nearly 500 passengers use the 10 trains that arrive at, and depart from, downtown’s Union Station. But the beautiful, functional space—with its sprawling grand hall framed by windows from floor to ceiling, warm wood and steel accents—can often feel deserted.
Hopefully, that will soon change.
This month, according to Raleigh Union Station manager Richard Costello, construction will begin on space in the station’s lower mezzanine that will house GoRaleigh and some GoTriangle transit offices. It is expected to be completed by early summer. The city and its contracted property manager, York Properties, are also in negotiations with a restaurant to occupy an additional 1,700 square feet of space in the grand hall; it could open this summer as well.
That’s not to mention GoTriangle’s RUS Bus development—an up-to-40 story mixed use tower and bus transfer facility located on a 1.76-acre site adjacent to the station on S. West Street—that could open as early as 2022.
Along with the Amtrak train services that utilize it, Union Station is already home to tenants including Wine and Design, SpecOne Specified Systems and Ora Architecture.
“With Wine and Design bringing more people in with so many different classes, activity [at the station] is picking up,” Costello says, adding that he expects more people to use the station daily once the food service is available. Costello estimates that, right now, 50 to 70 non-passengers come to Union Station every day.
“We have several people drop in for free WiFi and people drop in to use it as impromptu meeting space,” he says. “A lot of photographers come out and we love seeing their photos on social media.” Additionally, Costello says he is working to bring yoga classes to Union Station as well as summer and track-out camps for kids in conjunction with the city’s parks department.
Special events and other programs have become an increasingly important component to keeping the 26,000 square-foot Union Station building active. In June, York Properties hired an event coordinator, Karen Clymer, to work closely with Costello to manage the station’s three spaces that are available to rent for special events.
“After the New Year, [Union Station] all of a sudden became Raleigh’s new, hot wedding venue,” Clymer says. “So I have been touring and booking weddings like you would not believe.”
This month, Union Station will host a wedding showcase for the public and local vendors, highlighting spaces available for wedding ceremonies (such as the outdoor terrace on the third floor featuring soaring views of downtown Raleigh) and receptions (including the grand hall and the outdoor civic plaza).
In addition to weddings, the station has hosted corporate parties and cocktail hours, a campaign rally for U.S. presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg and civic events such as the Raleigh City Council swearing-in ceremony in December.
Clymer says, initially, it was a challenge to balance hosting large special events with passengers trying to navigate train services. She and Costello implemented wayfinding measures and now collaborate with renters, event planners and caterers on space layouts to minimize confusion. Demand to use the space has grown quickly enough that Clymer has hired an assistant event coordinator and a team of event staffers.
With the completion of the RUS Bus facility, Union Station will serve as a second downtown destination for GoRaleigh and GoTriangle bus routes (in addition to the GoRaleigh Station near Moore Square). Bus Rapid Transit routes that will comprise a key part of the Wake Transit Plan will run through Union Station and, in the longer term, a commuter rail line from Garner to Durham could run frequent daily train services through the station as well.
“We’re like the heartbeat,” Costello says. “Everything will be coming through the station and leaving again, like a wheel and a spoke, so to speak.”
But, he adds, special events and other programming will retain prominence, as a complement to these expanded transit services.
“At other train stations across the country, they rely on special events, too,” Costello says. “They’re important because they may bring in people who wouldn’t have thought to use the train. It brings them to the station and helps to increase the knowledge of what we do and what we have to offer.”
By The Numbers: Union Station
Cost to build RUS
Square footage of RUS
Daily arrivals & departures for passenger trains, including Amtrak’s Piedmont, Carolinian, Silver Star trains
Average number of daily passengers using RUS in FY 2019
RUS event spaces available to rent (Grand Hall, Outdoor Plaza, Third Floor Terrace)
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