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07.01.2014
Going Bold
Los Angeles' Union Station enters next phase with big ambitions.
Rendering shows plans for ambitious towers behind Union Station and landscaped plazas linking the areas in front of it.
Courtesy Grimshaw + Gruen

In 2012, Metro’s Board of Directors selected a design team made up of Los Angeles–based Gruen Associates and Grimshaw Architects to design a Union Station Master Plan, laying the groundwork for more than 40 acres of development on the north end of downtown. On June 5, the team, which also includes landscape architecture firm Mia Lehrer + Associates, presented the master plan’s latest incarnation at a community workshop. This iteration represents the further—and more ambitious—development of a preferred scheme selected by the board in October of last year.

The master plan was set in motion when Metro purchased Union Station and the surrounding 47 acres of underutilized land in 2011. Since then, the agency has been studying how to improve its transit connections, incorporate high-speed rail, and enhance adjacent properties as development opportunities. The station is currently used by roughly 70,000 passengers but this is expected to double to 140,000 by 2040, especially if high-speed rail becomes a reality.

   
 

The latest version of the master plan includes a new passenger concourse that extends from the station’s existing underground passageway and continues under existing train platforms, a new consolidated bus terminal on the same level as the station’s rail platforms, pedestrian and bicycle bridges, and the replacement of a parking lot in front with a civic plaza that connects with an esplanade along Olvera Street.

While these elements were all in the board’s preferred scheme, this latest iteration represents a leap forward from last year, articulating what is now beginning to look like architecture. In new renderings, an expansive, naturally lit concourse running under rail platforms creates an atmosphere similar to Santa Monica Place or The Grove instead of a transit facility. The multimodal civic plaza, which replaces an existing parking lot, includes extensive gardens, outdoor seating and dining amenities, and open green space. Abstract representations of towers stand in as placeholders for 3.25 million square feet of potential mixed-use development around the station. This includes a hotel, office space, retail, and a residential complex.

 

Some controversial elements of the plan still persist. To make room for a separate high-speed rail terminal linking to Union Station with bridges, Metro would like to take the existing Patsouras Transit Plaza, behind the station, and relocate it to an adjacent site currently occupied by the Mosaic Apartments. To achieve this, Metro will have to tear down the apartments. Critics of this proposal question the logic of reorienting the passenger concourse in an east/west direction and tearing down the taxpayer-funded transit plaza when it seems to work.

Concurrent with the ongoing master plan development, the city and Metro are studying neighborhood linkages with enhanced pedestrian, bicycle, and transit connections, and more public green space. As part of a push to make the master plan more sustainable, Metro anticipates pursuing LEED ND (neighborhood development) certification for the master plan and LEED EBOM (existing building, operations, and maintenance) for the renovated Union Station.

The completed master plan is due for review by the Metro board in September.

Guy Horton