What’s next for Baltimore’s Penn Station?

Penn Station (Flickr)

Did you know that nearly three million passenger trips begin or end at Baltimore’s Penn Station each year making it Amtrak’s eighth busiest station? Approximately two-thirds of those account for Baltimoreans commuting to Washington, D.C.

On March 18, 2021, the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) hosted a conversation about the proposed redevelopment of Penn Station and its ability to provide a more attractive “gateway” to Baltimore City, as well as generate jobs and increase economic opportunities.

Panelists included:

  • Bill Struever, Principal, Managing Partner, CEO, Cross Street Partners
  • Tim Pula, Vice President, Community Development for Beatty Development
  • Brian Traylor, Planning Manager, Amtrak
  • Peter Stubb, Principal, Design Director, Gensler

Greater Baltimore Committee President and CEO Donald C. Fry served as moderator.

Some proposed improvements include station expansion to accommodate Amtrak and MARC’s projected ridership growth, a high-speed rail platform, bridging the tracks and connecting surrounding neighborhoods and improved plazas for pedestrians.

See some of the key takeaways from the discussion:

Project overview

Struever provided an overview of the overall project noting that the team hoped to achieve a fresh look for Penn Station and transform it into a regional transit hub. Some of the main components of the project include renovating the historic Penn Station building (the headhouse), improved Light Rail and MARC access, Acela service expansion and a “standout rock star community benefit plan.”

“Transit is hugely important to the city’s economy and access to quality jobs for folks in the neighborhoods,” he said.

He noted Amtrak’s major investment and continuing commitment to the Penn Station project will be dedicated to the passenger concourse and a new fleet of high-speed Acela trains.

Though the idea of expanding the Light Rail is still in the early discussion stage, Struever said, “It would be cool if the Light Rail could come into Penn Station and continue on to Camden Station and the airport.”

Struever noted that the project is “fully committed to have minority development partners joint venturing with us on those Amtrak sites. We will have minority general contractors on some of those development sites.”

Future of RailAmtrak’s investment and a new Acela fleet

Traylor discussed the Amtrak investment in further detail. “Amtrak has committed to invest $90 million into the station and expansion,” he said.

Concerning the next generation high-speed rail and the new Acela fleet, Traylor said, “This is really looking to reimagine the future of high-speed rail in the United States. …Twenty-eight trains will be operating on the Northeast corridor at top speeds of 160 mph. We’re excited about that. It’s been a long time coming.”

Traylor noted that revitalizing the existing station and concourse will “provide a really first-class customer experience in Baltimore.”

Core development sites 

Lanvale developmentPula said the core focus at the moment consists of the existing rail station, a large swath of land that Amtrak controls on Lanvale Street and two parcels to the East and West that “most of us don’t even think about because, to a large extent, they sit below street level.”

He noted that there are land parcels tucked between Charles Street and Maryland Avenue and St. Paul Street and Calvert Street that have development potential.

The development team expects the project to attract private investment to develop neighboring residential and commercial projects.

“This is a great opportunity for office development and residential,” he said. “We think this is a really great location for commercial development because of these lower rents” in our region compared to nearby East Coast cities. “You can have office space here and very quickly hop on Acela and be in Washington or Philly or New York.”

Pula noted that the large number of commuters that use Penn Station are predominately people in Baltimore going to D.C. for jobs and bringing tax revenue back to Baltimore. He said Amtrak and MARC’s projected ridership growth has necessitated the renovation and expansion, which will cost approximately $500 million.

“As a Baltimorean, I don’t love the idea of being a bedroom community to D.C., but it’s a reality that there are high-paying good jobs there. And the ability to have people live in Baltimore in this great authentic city that we have with a lower cost of living and work in D.C. …It’s something we have to promote. We have to take advantage of that.”

Exterior and interior design plans

Pula added that the first project to be teed up is approximately $13 million worth of work to the exterior of the headhouse building. That includes cleaning, a new roof, window repairs and lighting “to make it really glow at night.” That project is slated for late spring, he said.

Following the exterior work, the next step will be tenant improvements inside the headhouse.

Plans inside the historic headhouse include upper floors with “really great historic office space” and new retail offerings on the ground floor. There will also be more entry points into the station to alleviate some of the congestion that exists today.

Stubb noted that the interior design plans will make all the opportunities in the station readily visible to the visitor. “This is an opportunity to experience the train as theater,” he said, as visitors will be able to watch the trains moving just below them.

“This has the potential to be a real community hub,” Stubb said. “We see this as a way to bridge the tracks and connect North and South and provide a real vibrant and vital new development here at the station.”

As for the view from Charles Street, Stubb said they “wanted to be respectful of the historic headhouse. Creating a new modern station and a reflection on the past and the importance of the historic station itself.”

Struever said, “Charles Street is going to have an amazing array of great restaurants, The Charles Theatre. …There are eight new Black-owned businesses opening in Station North. …Showing the vitality of this neighborhood again connecting at the crossroads of our city … and this Charles Street connection and Lanvale are really important.”

The future of the Male/Female sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky

The 51-foot tall hollow stainless steel sculpture that currently stands at the entrance of Penn Station has been either loved or hated by local residents.

When asked if it will be included in the renovation plans, Struever said, “Actually, it’s grown on me. We have to think of a diplomatic, graceful way to get everyone’s input. But, I wouldn’t dare opine on that.”

Pula added, “People may not like the answer, but it’s to be determined. …It is an issue that’s on the list of things we need to discuss with the larger community. It is a hot topic. It comes up in every discussion.”

Praise for the team

On the future of Baltimore’s Penn Station, Fry said, “This is an exciting project. This has been something that Baltimore’s been waiting for years to see and I think we finally have the correct team to put this project together and bring this to fruition. We appreciate the vision and the commitment that you’ve put in to turning this Baltimore icon into a real transformative project.”

View the presentation here.

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