Union Station reopens as massive development booms around it

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DENVER -- After decades of planning and years of construction, several hundred people enjoyed a Friday afternoon in lower downtown as RTD cut the ribbon on the new Union Station Transit Center.

The event attracted national, state and local leaders.

The $480 million renovation project that was part of the FasTracks program will begin serving bus passengers at a new 22-bay underground bus concourse early Sunday morning.

At the same time, the Market Street Station bus terminal will close permanently after 30 years of operation. The city of Denver owns Market Street Station and plans to turn it into a parking garage. A developer associated with Union Station intends to buy the property before December 2015.

Union Station is one of Denver's most historic buildings. It's surrounded by 19 acres of once wasted land that is now all under development.

You don't have to look very far to see the impact the renovation of the site is having on lower downtown Denver. The entire area is experiencing a construction boom of residences, retail, offices and parks.

“It’s hard to overstate the impact that this rebirth of Denver Union Station is going to have on downtown, the region and the state,” said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. “The sight of construction cranes and buildings going up all around us is a strong indicator of the economic impact already underway.”

Union Station has transformed into a multi-modal hub that offers bus, light rail, Amtrak, and beginning in 2016, commuter rail to places like Denver International Airport all under one roof. The success of the transformation into a significant transit hub is something the whole world has been watching.

In two years, 180,000 travelers will use the station each day.

"This is the type of transit oriented community that is really attractive because it's a very clean situation enironmentally and achieving a density around this ..." says RTD spokesman Scott Reed.

The project melds commuter and light rail with an underground bus terminal all linked to DIA. By the time the commuter rail line to the airport opens in 2016, Union Station will be a launching point to travel anywhere in the world as well as anywhere in metro Denver.

It's like a city within a city. "Right now, there's a billion dollars worth of development underway," says Chris Frampton of developer East West Partners.

It includes 3,000 residential units, 2 million square feet of office space and 250,000 square feet of new retail shops and restaurants.

"I think it'll open things up and get downtown growing again and people back in downtown," says Sheryl Johnson, who was born in Denver.

Twenty-five countries have sent representatives to study this model for development. " It's not only the physical infrastructure that people are coming to take a look at, they're also looking at how we were able to finance it," Scott Reed of RTD says. He's talking about a half billion dollars of public and private money for transit alone.

"Over a hundred years from now thousands of people will be coming through here," says Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. "It's a powerful moment for Denver."

In July, the Crawford Hotel along with a number of restaurants and retail establishments will open inside the renovated building.

Amtrak started using the new facility in February.

The East Rail Line to DIA, Gold Line to Arvada and Wheat Ridge and Northwest Rail Line to Westminster will all start using Union Station in 2016. The North Metro Rail Line just broke ground and it will move in during 2018.