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Sell Union Station to us: GO Transit boss
Published: November 6, 2007
Source: Peter Kuitenbrouwer, National Post
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Union StationThe City of Toronto should sell Union Station to GO Transit because dithering politicians at City Hall are letting the 1927 Beaux-Arts heritage building become "a public eyesore," the head of GO said yesterday.

Gary McNeil, chief executive, said GO should have bought Union Station in 2000, when Canadian National and Canadian Pacific turned the station over to the city in lieu of $25-million in back taxes.

CN and CP had not invested in the station since the 1950s and the City of Toronto has done no better, he said.

"A lot of repairs to Union Station are not happening because of what I'd call political reasons.

"People point the finger and meanwhile cracks are growing, the clocks are broken. It's a shame, it's an embarrassment, it's a public eyesore."

GO operates 181 trains in and out of the station every weekday, making it Canada's busiest transportation hub. The city is now coming up with retail ideas for Union Station while forgetting that it is a train station, Mr. Mc-Neil said in an interview in his office, at the foot of Bay Street.

"Our focus would be on the customers, not the commercial side," he said.

Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, who heads council's government management committee, said last week she wants to bring St. Lawrence Market fishmongers and bakers to Union Station. But she also suggested a partnership with GO, noting, "GO has a lot of money."

Councillor Karen Stintz said the city should sell to GO.

"We should register our interest in maintaining its historic value, and then sell it to GO," she said.

"We don't have the expertise to develop the station in the way it needs to be developed to serve the transportation needs of the region."

But Councillor Joe Mihevc, who sits on the boards of both GO and the Toronto Transit Commission, said the city is the correct owner for Union Station, managing all its users: GO, VIA, the TTC and eventually a new Greyhound bus terminal.

"Union Station is a major intermodal station," he said. "You can't have any one of these players in charge of the whole thing."

He conceded that the city lost most of a decade debating a private deal for the station. Now it's time to move forward, he said, adding that he wants a "big fat cheque" from Queen's Park for Union Station -- to revitalize it, not as payment for its sale to provincially owned GO.

In 2000, GO spent $85-million to buy five kilometres of track in the rail corridor, the Union Station train shed and the old CP Express shed.

"If I'd been in charge, we would have bought the station as well," Mr. McNeil said.

GO, which moved 41 million passengers in 2006, is spending $100-million over six years to replace the train shed roof.

"It was built in the 1930s to last 20 years," he said. GO also is spending $300-million over seven years to replace the station's signal system, Mr. McNeil said.

"Every bit of money that's gone into Union Station has been from GO Transit," he said.

GO would love to fix the station proper as well.

"We would have definitely gone in there and addressed the infrastructure," he said. "It's not just an eyesore, it's a liability."

City of Toronto staff are preparing a report, to go to council on Nov. 26, about revitalizing the station.

Mr. McNeil said that plan involves digging down two metres under the east side of Union Station.

Rather than being a one-storey passenger concourse with a three-metre ceiling, the station would have an underground mall and a station with just a 2.5-metre ceiling, he said. He called it a bad idea, saying riders should have a spacious area in which to walk.

"You go into the new Terminal One at Pearson," he said. "Where the pedestrian flows are, you are king."

Mr. Mihevc said the motivation for new retail partners at Union Station is "to recoup capital costs through the rents."

GO, meanwhile, plans to build a new head office on a piece of adjacent land, he added.


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