New Amtrak Station at Freighthouse Square

As a part of the re-routing of its Cascades passenger rail service, Amtrak will be relocating its Tacoma station from that dingy well-used 1980s building on Puyallup Avenue to Freighthouse Square, just up the hill. On Monday Dome District residents and business owners got their first look at plans for the new station - and it wasn't exactly a huge hit.

For starters, the western end of the existing Freighthouse Square building would be knocked down and rebuilt. What they're proposing to put up in its place might follow the basic shape of the historic building, but that's about it. The design follows the shape of the portion of the building that would be knocked down, but takes inspiration from other newer Tacoma structures for its materials - glass and steel.

The 104 year-old wood building has some structural issues that would require a major renovation regardless of plans, in order to be compatible with use as an Amtrak station, according to the Seattle architects working on the project. For starters, columns too close together to accomodate Amtrak baggage equipment, and safety and accessiblity issues relating to sprinkler systems, seismic requirements, and ADA compliance.

The initial design proposal solves the problem by simply knocking down the first 150 feet of the west end of Freighthouse Square, and rebuilding it out of steel and glass. The project design team may have miscalculated the level of attachment to the simple wood structure for many Tacomans.  Although it's more than a century old, the station isn't listed on national or state lists of protected structures; that doesn't mean, however, that no one cares about its preservation. The steel and glass update to the section of the building are definitely drawing attention to the project - if not necessarily positive.

Moving the station to Freighthouse Square should expedite travel for rail passengers, and put travelers closer to other transit options. The location is identified in last week's presentation as "the only feasible location." The design, however, sounds like it hasn't found much support in the immediate community. (Read more from the TNT, including Peter Callaghan sharing his opinion). Critiques of the plan reach beyond Tacoma too. The plans are still at the draft phase, which means there's still the possibility of returning to the drawing board.

The City of Tacoma has identified involvement in design of the new station as a priority in its new South Downtown Subarea Plan, scheduled for adoption this week. The project could be wrapping up, with the new station in operation, by 2017. What will it look like? 

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The Seattle Aquarium operates within historic Pier 59 with the main facade of that structure preserved.  Amtrak should be concerned about fire safety and seismic risks at Freighthouse Square but those issues can be offset with mechanical and structural upgrades in the building (there was a big fire in the eastern-most part about 25 years ago).  Certainly, the vintage Milwaukee Road sign should be restored on the western-most part of Freighthouse Square.  Amtrak and WSDOT’s Rail Division could raise the roof on the segment of Freighhouse Square between the Sound Tranist lobby and the 2-story western-most part and build its facility there.  A glass pavilion there atop the Amtrak lobby could be a beacon for the station’s location, much like how green glass towers atop the Oregon Convention Center can be seen from downtown Portland.  Tacoma’s museums could assist the agency in designing a waiting room lobby there with arts and artifacts expressive of the city’s past—native son Dale Chihuly has been very thoughtful about collecting such items.  As Seattle takes pride in the restoration of King Street Station for Amtrak Cascades, so the new Amtrak station in Tacoma can also be customized to make it part of the fabric of Freighthouse Square’s social milieu and bigger Cascades rail experience—and to also commemorate the heyday of passenger train service on the Tacoma Eastern’s run from there to Mount Rainier National Park (where the wooden Paradise Inn stands restored with seismic and fire protection upgrades).  It seems WSDOT Rail Division planners thought they could run something cheap past Tacomans and sell it as design innovation.  There is still time to engage the community and get the right design that is both past and future.  There must be some flexibility in that $800 million funding package for Amtrak Cascades upgrades for revisions to develop the right station for Tacoma that is not a glorified Amshak.  Such changes will require cooperation from Freighthouse Square’s owner to also restore the building, including the western-most part that must be preserved.

December 16, 2013 at 11:16 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Amshak is right.  This new design is terrible.  The upgrade is necessary, but Tacoman’s know good design and this is not it.  Well put Joe-Nate.

January 5, 2014 at 10:59 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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I’d like to hear more about how this new Amtrak station will support both long and short-term bike parking. There isn’t a single bike rack at the current location. This means that in order to buy a ticket or check in, you must bring your bicycle inside with you—which is not popular among the staff working there. This surprises me because the North Cascades line is one of eight Amtrak lines in the network where, for a small fee, you can ride to the station and put your bicycle in the luggage compartment without having to dismantle and box it up (walk-on service”)—It’s great and I would love to see Amtrak do more to accommodate those who choose to bicycle to the station.

December 16, 2013 at 11:19 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Published Author RR AndersonRegistered

Bike vaults inside the park & ride no?

December 16, 2013 at 9:44 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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A friend told me in Massachusetts they don’t tear down old buildings.  It’s part of the culture and needs to be preserved. It’s our history.

We Tacomans haven’t figured that out yet.

December 16, 2013 at 4:35 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Multimodalism, integration with the city’s commitment to the arts and to our railroad history seem like themes that continue to resonate with folks who are paying attention.  It doesn’t seem to me that the addition of these elements to the design would have an appreciable impact on the budget for the project.

Whether or not we need to include adaptive reuse as a deal-breaking criterion, I’m less certain on.

December 16, 2013 at 4:58 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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The design I’ve seen in the papers was pretty bad, but I’m not in love with all elements of the existing building; especially the north wall which faces 25th ST.  The windows and doorways on the ground level are at odd intervals which wouldn’t make sense for a train station that should have one, or two main entryways.  We should demand something great.  This is going to be one of the largest and most important transit centers in the region.  I would like to see some reuse, but not a perfect preservation of the facade.  I say keep the green siding and 2nd floor windows.  Add some glass and steel to let in more light and make it seismically sound, and refurbish the signs on the west end and roof.  I’d also like to see some of the heavy lumber refinished and reused if possible.  There’s already a decent example of that sort of thing down at the Foss Maritime Museum.  It won’t compete with Kind Street in Seattle (which Union Station on Pac Ave blows away), but it could still be pretty special and uniquely Tacoman.

December 16, 2013 at 7:10 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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There’s a citizen advisory committee that worked hard last year to stop the trains from parking across c and d streets during boarding. This would have blocked the only north-south access to the dome district, not to mention exiting from the tacoma dome. This group was left out of the design review process until Monday’s presentation but they’re working hard to be a voice for a better station.

December 16, 2013 at 9:14 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Erik BRegistered

A local Tacoma artist made this rendering.

December 19, 2013 at 3:13 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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There are some amazing architectural buildings in our city, and as much as I don’t care for the current freight house square building as is, there have got to be better options than this new “Amshak”.  What a lame barn like design.  We Tacoman’s expect better!  Maybe we need to ask another design firm for some options.  This will be some commuter’s only view of Tacoma and it needs to be a standout building in true Tacoma style.  This is a great city that deserves it!

January 5, 2014 at 11:10 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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I have several concerns/ideas:
1) The platform at Freighthouse Square is long enough for sounders, but not Amtrak Cascades or Amtrak Coast Starlight trains. It’s currently already being used as Sounder station.
2) Freighthouse square has a nice business ecosystem going that could suffer by shoving an Amtrak station into the same building. Tearing down Freighthouse Square would mean putting about a dozen merchants and eight food places out of business.
3) There is no platform currently on the south side of the tracks. For a larger town like Tacoma, you would expect Amtrak and Sounder to share stations and have Southbound traffic on one platform (North) and Northbound traffic on the other platform (South). During events at the Tacoma Dome, you might want Sounders to come from Everett/Seattle/Tukwila/Kent/Auburn etc ... and other Sounders to come from Olympia/Dupont/Lakewood etc. and have them arrive at the same time.
Note that there is a large empty lot across the tracks from the Freighthouse square.  And two businesses that might need to be relocated.
4) D Street is the major thoroughfare in front of the Tacoma Dome going North and South. During events, there is a lot of pedestrian traffic along both sides. If D street could be blocked off or run underground for a block, then Freighthouse Square could be lengthened to accommodate the longer Amtrak trains and a new Amtrak station at one end.
5) It would be wise to have a rental car lot nearby for tourists and business travelers.
6) Easy access to the nearby hotel(s) would be really a good idea to plan-in now. There is a Best Western located right across the street from the empty lot.
7) Maybe this move of the Amtrak station could be used to further “gentrify” the neighborhood between Freighthouse Square and the Tacoma Dome.

So instead of “Amashak” (which looks like a used car lot to me), why not build the new Amtrak station across the tracks in the empty lot between the Freighthouse Square and the Best Western Tacoma Dome? Build a long enough platform along the rails from D Street to the east about 1000+ feet. Have an elevated pedestrian walkway with elevators on both the Amtrak Station side and the Freighthouse Square side. Have a pair of switch on the west side of the station and Freight House Square so that the traffic from the Defiance Point bypass going (now only North side / west tracks) can be switched over to the tracks that come from the Frederickson Wye going towards Seattle(south side / east tracks).

January 17, 2014 at 10:13 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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