On December 8, Saint Paul’s historic Union Depot will officially open to the public and begin serving transit passengers for the first time in 40 years! TLC is eager to participate in Saturday’s grand reopening festivities and to hop aboard one of the Metro Transit buses that begin serving the depot that same day. We recently sat down with Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority’s Josh Collins, to ask some questions about new transit service, the restoration, and what to expect at the December 8 celebration. We hope to see you there—be sure to stop by TLC’s table to say hello!
TLC: What modes of service are launching at Union Depot and when?
JC: The services begin in phases. Metro Transit bus service and casino shuttle service will begin on December 8. In January, Jefferson Lines will begin regional bus service out of the Depot. Amtrak will relocate to Union Depot sometime in 2013 and the Green Line (Central Corridor LRT) will start in 2014.
TLC: What will Union Depot offer for bicyclists and pedestrians?
JC: In early 2013, One on One Bicycle Studio will open a full-service bicycle center in the depot, featuring secure storage, bicycle repair and retail, showers, lockers, and food/drinks for commuters on the go. We have built a new bike path across the north side of the train deck along Kellogg Boulevard, which will eventually connect to the Bruce Vento Regional Trail. For pedestrians, we have made significant improvements to the sidewalks around the depot, and from the river into Lowertown along Sibley Street. Clearer pedestrian paths, wider sidewalks, and improved sight lines all contribute to a safer environment for pedestrians.
TLC: Why is it important for multiple modes of transportation to converge at the restored Union Depot?
JC: To address the complex transportation needs of the community, we need transportation options. Union Depot serves as a connection point to services, amenities, and facilities that serve all types of people. Multiple types of mass transit, bicycling, walking, and automobile users all will find utility at Union Depot. Even those who travel up the Mississippi River on the steamboats to Saint Paul will find themselves only feet from Union Depot.
TLC: Can you tell us about any new or expected housing, office, or other development near Union Depot? How do you think this reopening will impact downtown Saint Paul?
JC: The great thing about Saint Paul—and of course, Lowertown—is that things are already happening here. The reopening of Union Depot is just a part of the incredible energy and enthusiasm that people have about the future of the east metro. Inside the depot, we have numerous opportunities for additional restaurant, retail, or office space. By the time the Green Line opens we hope to have added additional tenants to the depot, which will draw people inside the great building. Lowertown is a noted arts community, and at the depot we are looking forward to becoming part of the bustling, creative community.
TLC: From 1923-1971, Union Depot was a bustling hub for freight and passenger rail. Are there any interesting elements of Union Depot’s history that stood out or were preserved through the restoration process?
JC: We conducted public tours through the second year of construction, and the personal stories and memories that were shared by some of the attendees were profoundly moving. We spoke with a woman who said goodbye to her father in 1942 at Union Depot, where he took his final photo with his family before dying in a plane crash in the Philippines. We met families who arrived in the 1950s as refugees from their homelands, who began new lives in Saint Paul and view the depot as the place that welcomed them home. We met the children of orphans placed on trains in New York and sent westward in the early 1900s, who arrived at Union Depot to join new families in and around Saint Paul. The emotional connection that Union Depot has with the community is absolutely incredible.
TLC: What can people expect during the grand reopening celebration on Saturday, December 8?
JC: The day begins at 9:30 a.m. with remarks from public officials who were instrumental in making the project happen. This project took the commitment of local, state, and federal officials, and the investment has put a great many people to work. At 10 a.m., the wall separating the public from the waiting room will come down and family-friendly celebrations will continue into the evening, culminating in a family movie night (“Elf”!). There will be actors from Bedlam Theatre recreating historical events and moments out of time, artists, musicians, flamenco and belly dancers, information on transportation, booths featuring historical information and much, much more.
TLC: Is there anything else you’d like to add about Union Depot, our region’s transportation system, or the significance of this restoration & reopening?
JC: The children who will attend this event will never know a Twin Cities that doesn’t have trains running down the streets. Think about that. Union Depot is steeped in history and memories. On December 8, we will welcome back generations who remember the “way it was,” but we know that it is just the beginning of a new era of experiences and memories yet to be.
Learn more about Union Depot and the grand reopening celebration here.
Photo courtesy of Union Depot Facebook page.