High-speed rail agency to help buy LA rail station

Associated Press
A police officer talks to a school bus driver as the bus arrives to pick up students at Gardena High School in Gardena, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011, after reports of a number of students being wounded during a shooting.  (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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The California High-Speed Rail Authority said Wednesday it will put in more than $30 million toward the purchase of land in and around historic Union Station, a transportation hub in downtown Los Angeles that may one day connect three bullet train segments.

The money would help the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority buy a 38-acre parcel from its current owner, Denver-based real estate company ProLogis. The property includes Union Station — a designated landmark which serves passengers of Amtrak trains, Metrolink commuter trains, three MTA rail lines, and several bus services — rail tracks, office buildings, and undeveloped land.

"We believe it's a good time to buy the station together with the MTA to secure our future," said Roelof van Ark, the CEO of the High-Speed Rail Authority.

Roger Moliere, chief of property development and management at the MTA, declined to provide the estimated value of the property because of ongoing negotiations with ProLogis. Last month, private investment firm TPG Capital said it was going to buy Union Station as part of a $505 million deal to acquire shopping centers, office buildings, and other assets from ProLogis.

A TPG spokeswoman said the transaction hasn't closed yet and declined further comment.

Moliere said the MTA was mainly negotiating with ProLogis. He said he hoped to reach a deal by February or March.

Joint ownership would give the High-Speed Rail Authority access to the rail right of way, the flexibility to design a station and passenger platforms according to environmental and engineering requirements, and the ability to develop real estate around the area, Van Ark said.

Plans to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Diego via the proposed, 800-mile high-speed rail line call for a stop at Union Station. The authority is already investing $400 million in the $4 billion Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco that will house buses, commuter trains and high-speed trains.

Meanwhile, the MTA is expanding its rail system that is anticipated to increase connectivity and attract more passengers. Moliere said both agencies will able to count on a "revenue stream" in the form of leases to retail and other transit operators. He said the property has 5 million square feet of entitlements for developing restaurants, shops, hotels, offices, parking and other structures around the station.

The station's landmark status will pose challenges for both agencies as they reconfigure the property for development.

Opened in 1939 as the last great railroad station built in America, the Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco-style station features elaborate tile work and an airy waiting area. The station has served as the backdrop of many movies, including "Blade Runner," ''The Way We Were," and a film-noir called "Union Station."

"Incorporating high-speed rail into a train station makes sense, but it has to be done in a way that respects the historic character of Union Station," said Cindy Olnick, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Conservancy.

Van Ark said the authority was looking into several options for going in and out of the station that will cause the least environmental impact, including the possibility of building a new station or adapting Union Station to accommodate high-speed rail.

"Our business is relatively complex, but the issues around those lines are not insurmountable," Van Ark said.

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