September 8, 2019

Disunion Station

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“Union Station is a project without a purpose.” -Robert Clark

Winston’s Union Station closed in 1970. After decades operating as Davis Garage, and years spent acquiring and rehabilitating the property, Union Station is finally open to the public. After spending a mere $20 million on the project, the City of Winston-Salem now owns a marvelous, historic building. But what exactly the City is going to do with Union Station is still anyone’s guess.

Sadly, after yesterday’s grand opening, the building closed and won’t be open to the public for a while longer. According to assistant city manager Damon Dequenne, “until the new restaurant is up and running the building will only be open on a limited basis for the general public to come in and take a look.” The City and SG Atkins CDC (who manages the building) planned to have an Elizabeth’s Pizza at Union Station, but Elizabeth’s backed out.

The name Union Station comes from the fact that different railroad companies worked together, jointly owning and running our city’s former train depot. There are many Union Stations throughout the country. Greensboro’s Douglas Galyon Depot, for example, is very similar to our Union Station. It was designed by the same architects and built one year after Winston’s Union Station. The Douglas Gaylon Depot currently serves as both a bus station and a train station with Amtrack service.

It is unclear when, if ever train service will return to Winston’s Union Station. Transportation officials have reassured the City that our restored Union Station will ensure that Winston is included in future rail projects. But there aren’t any such projects in the pipeline.

Back during its heyday, Winston’s Union Station was the only train station in North Carolina with rails that ran in all four directions.” Today, Union Station needs some direction. It’s currently a $20 million project without any tenants, except the City of Winston-Salem. Various options for Union Station (restaurant, retail, commercial) have not come to fruition-despite the project being months behind schedule. Perhaps one day Winston will once again have a train station, but today we have a Disunion Station.

Back in 2016, Carol Davis of SG Akins CDC said Union Station “could be anything. It could be a restaurant. It could be a place for events…” Davis and other supporters of Union Station have described Union Station as a destination. Union Station is a beautifully restored 36,000 square foot building that could be a destination-the kind of place that East Winston’s residents deserve. But not if it remains empty.

East Ward Councilmember Annette Scippio told the ribbon-cutting crowd yesterday that, “by 2020 it [Union Station] will be fully occupied, with services for all of us.” I hope Scippio is right. But today it’s an empty station. There is a possibility, at least in the short-term, that Union Station will become another Liberty Street Market (an outdoor market in a food desert without produce).

For the foreseeable future Union Station will be a bus station east of downtown with transportation offices on the bottom floor. If you remember, the City took Union Station from Harvey Davis through eminent domain. Because of that Machiavellian move by Mayor Joines, Union Station must be used as a transportation center going forward.

So WFU has its private Wake Line shuttles, and WSSU gets a WSTA hub across from its campus? That hardly seems fair or equitable.

The City should have never abandoned Union Station. Under the previous owner Harvey Davis, Winston’s Union Station was suffering a slow “demolition by neglect.” Now that Union Station is restored, the City needs to find a purpose for it, one that benefits Winston-Salem State and East Winston’s residents first and foremost.

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