Rehabbing a historic hub: Santa Fe Station renovation moving down the track to completion

Thursday, February 16, 2017

by Molly Fleming

Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – The renovation work on one train station is chugging along, while the future use of another downtown station is unknown.

The first part of the four-phase Santa Fe Station renovation is about 95 percent complete, said Rick Lueb, principal at TAP Architecture.

The second phase is the new plaza, which will start when Project 180’s updates to E.K. Gaylord Boulevard are complete. The last phase will be the hole cut through the wall that will bring people from Bricktown directly through the station’s east side.

Lueb has been working on bringing the station back to its historic appearance, and doing it respectfully. He’s spent a lot of time browsing through old photos.

He saw a picture of the original bench that sat in the small segregated waiting room. Oklahoma City-based Monticello Cabinets and Doors re-created it. The space is the new Amtrak waiting room.

“This room has now been restored back to its original proportions,” he said. “You’re very much looking at it how it was in that day.”

But his photo research didn’t help him with the Main Hall, because there were very few pictures available. He was able to re-create the clock, the light fixtures, and even the font on the directional signage.

The ticket counter on the south side has frosted glass, as it would have been in the station’s heyday. The former cigar counter on the north side will house a coffee shop or newsstand. A tenant is still being sought, said Jason Ferbrache, director of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority. The authority is overseeing the building tenants.

“If we could attract a coffee shop or a newsstand, we’d be really open to that,” he said. “We want to activate that space to give people a reason to go there.”

The retail space closest to the station will be leased by Spokies and the OKC River Cruises.

Ferbrache said with the station and its adjacent retail spaces being an intermodal hub, the downtown streetcar plan could include a stop there. COTPA wants to attract transportation-related businesses.

“It’s really a type of facility that we’ve never had in Oklahoma City,” he said. “We want it to be a central place for all types of different transportation to serve.”

Amtrak couldn’t be happier about the multiple transportation types coming to the train station, said Marc Magliari, Amtrak’s Chicago-based spokesperson.

“The more connections, the better it is for our customer, the better it is for our business,” he said. “It’s the last mile or two that keeps people from using the service. A station that’s accessible easily without cars is a station that’s more ready than those on the outside of town.”

Amtrak is just one entity that Lueb and principal Anthony McDermid have to work with on the station. They have a laundry list of groups, including the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the city of Oklahoma City and the Federal Railroad Administration.

“At some point, the entire list touches the project one way or another,” McDermid said.

South of Santa Fe Station, Union Station casts a shadow on the land that will be the MAPS 3 Central Park. The city’s landmark Scissortail Bridge sits on the east side.

The station hasn’t been forgotten as the work is underway on the park, said Jim Tolbert, chairman of the board for the newly formed MAPS Park Foundation.

The foundation had its first meeting last week. The station’s future use was on the agenda. But that plan requires more than money to bring it to fruition.

The station belongs to COTPA. The entity purchased it with a federal transportation grant, so it has to be used for something transportation-related.

“The city has to find a way to change the ownership of the building,” he said.

He said the foundation would like to see the building turned into public event spaces and park administration areas. A total renovation would cost about $12 million, but the public spaces would cost about $5 million.

“No one has the money now,” he said. “It can be found once the ownership is solved. We can be the advocates to try and make this happen. The ownership problem is the bigger issue.”

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