Commuters utilizing the could be in for a bit of a trek in the not-so-distant future as the seeks to update the garage originally constructed in 1987.
Surrounded by a 1,200 parking space structure built in 2004, the old garage houses 727 parking spaces for daily commuters who arrived at the Stamford Transportation Center for outbound travel. It is also badly in need of an update.
"It's 25 years old. It's deteriorating," said Judd Everhart, Director of Communications for the DOT. "There are pot holes. You can see the rebar sticking up through the concrete. It's not in very good condition. It definitely has to be torn down and something new created."
So the DOT decided to began sending out Requests For Proposals to developers who might have an idea on how to update the land. But they saw no reason to deny themselves what could be a lucrative opportunity for everyone, so they are also entertaining proposals for other uses for the land.
They have no particular goal in mind, the DOT is simply shopping the idea around to see what kind of ideas float it's way. But anything is possible.
"Whatever goes up on state-owned land is not subject to zoning regulations by the city," said Jim Cameron, chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Council. "The height of the building, how it looks, what the setbacks might be—the city doesn't really have any say in that. Though [Stamford] has taken a great interest in the redevelopment of that area due to their goal of the development of South End."
Cameron is one of the more outspoken opponents of the DOT's plan. He currently uses this site to help residents keep track of all the latest garage developments. Perhaps the largest concern he has with the current approach to searching for a new plan is that, in fielding proposals for different uses of the land, the DOT has conceded to allowing the garage to be moved up to a quarter-mile away.
Additionally, the DOT has already made the declaration that whichever proposal wins for the development of the old garage land, regardless of the use of the land, at the very least part of the project must consist of a minimum-1,000-parking space structure somewhere in that quarter-mile vicinity. And that portion must be completed in some manner while demolition and redevelopment of the current, 1987 garage is going on.
Whether those 1,000 spaces come from some sort of temporary fix or not is still open for consideration.
"Rather than building a temporary garage of more than 1000 spaces, my estimation is they're going to build a new garage," Cameron said. "Then they can start demolition on the old garage, and what that means is 1,000 commuters are going to have to walk a quarter mile to the train station every day."
Cameron also insists that the DOT is going to rank the proposals it receives on a formula of one-third commuter-ease and two-thirds maximization of monetizing the site. He says this is outlined in their Request For Proposal, which can be read, in full, here.
"The proposal clearly delineates that one-third of the points [used to tally a total for the proposal] will be for what kind of building is planned and how it affects commuters, but two-thirds will be how much money it makes for the DOT. They really want to cash in on the value of the land piece across from the train station," Cameron said. "By their own standards for weighing proposals, they're twice as interested in maximizing income as they are providing service to the commuters."
Those goals and requirements as listed in the RFP are as follows:
- Demolish and replace the Original Garage with a minimum of 1,000 commuter parking spaces
- Minimize impacts to commuters
- Maximize revenue for the State
- Promote economic development
Requirements and objectives
- Delivery of a minimum of 1,000 Commuter parking spaces within 1⁄4 mile walking distance of the STC using the existing pedestrian overpass as an origin;
- Maintenance of access to the existing number of commuter parking spaces at all times (including during construction) within the Acceptable Walking Distance;
- Demolition of the Original Garage;
- Replacement of the elevated pedestrian walkway to the Stamford Station that is currently connected to the Original Garage;
- Maximize the continuous long-term revenue stream to the State;
- Maximize revenue from State property;
- Minimize the State’s financial contribution during design and construction;
- Delivery of Station Place and parking garage improvements that increase access, upgrades conveniences to commuters, and are pedestrian-friendly;
- Provide a new Parking Access and Revenue Control System for the Replacement Garage and 2004 Garage;
- Potentially provide operations and maintenance for the Replacement Garage and 2004 Garage;
- Provide connectivity to commuters between the Replacement Garage and the 2004 Garage; and
- Inclusion of a TOD component as defined in Section 13b-79kk of the Connecticut Statutes.
Everhart said the DOT isn't looking to make life difficult and will be seeking out projects that average out to the most improvement for everyone involved.
"Anything can be proposed. It's up to the designers—we're looking for innovation and creativity," he said. "There are so many moving parts to this thing, so it really is going to depend on what the design firms come up with—but the ultimate consideration will be for customer service and commuter convenience. That's why we put a maximum of a quarter mile on the limit for where the garage can be compared to the current configuration."
Cameron isn't convinced. He's confident that commuters are going to find that kind of inconvenience a good enough reason to start traveling out of their way for an easier train-ride.
"If there's a need for Condos or office space, build that a quarter of a mile away from the train station and let a couple hundred of them walk instead of asking 1000 commuters to do that," Cameron said, who also added he's been warning others to prepare for the coming traffic nightmare all that development will bring.
"It's going to be a real mess for commuters. My concern is moving parking away from the train station makes it a less-desirable jumping-on point. It's going to lose traffic for the station and it's going to mean those commuters start going to Darien or Greenwich Springdale or one of the other stations to try and find parking so I'm kind of advising people to get on the waiting list at other parking garages and stations now if they want to try and have a place to park during the construction."
Everhart remains steadfast. He's not concerned about the busiest stop on the New Haven line outside of Grand Central Station and he's not concerned that construction would dampen ridership that's seen increases every year, according to Everhart's numbers. He said Stamford is an essential city and it's as busy for those hopping on as it is for those hopping off.
"It's extremely unlikely that we would lose any commuters. Parking is always a headache at pretty much every station but people need to get to work and the train is a very, very convenient option and if there is a little bit of additional walking, overall we don't think there will be any drop in ridership," he said. "Stamford is just as much a destination for workers as it is a departure point."
For now, however, commuters have nothing more to do than hurry up and wait. All the anxiety over the future of the station could either amount to nothing, or turn out to be for a very good reason. The fact of the matter remains that no one knows how the issue will turn out until more information is released on an accepted proposal for development and the current timeline dictates that won't happen until at least later in August, but possibly not until the end of September if everyone solicited for a proposal takes the maximum amount of allotted time.
"The thing to understand is that, right now, we don't know where the new garage will be," Everhart said. "It could be exactly where it is now. It could be somewhat farther away. Until we select a design and pick a contractor, we wont know exactly what the Stamford Transportation Center will look like. We expect to select a contractor by the end of the year. It's possible it will be up to a quarter of a mile away but at this point we just don't know."