The successful collaboration of the public and private sectors made Washington, D.C.’s Union Station restoration a triumph that benefits both the partners and visitors to the unique historic site. The public-private partnership succeeded due to a political commitment and public sector involvement throughout the project. Moreover, the project followed a well-conceived, carefully executed plan that included a dedicated income stream, open communication and dispute resolution channels, and the right private partner.
At the time of its opening on October 27, 1907, Union Station was the largest train station in the world and a monumental example of Beaux-Arts architecture. By the late 1970s, the building had deteriorated so severely that it was uninhabitable and in danger of demolition.
Citizen groups and politicians began searching for an effective rehabilitation approach, one that could overcome the District and Congress’ funding troubles. Finally, the U.S. Congress enacted the Redevelopment Act of 1981. Under the Redevelopment Act, Union Station’s lease was transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Transportation (USDOT), which began the process to transform the station into a thriving transportation terminal and commercial center. Because of restoration costs and the potential commercial economic benefits, a public-private partnership was identified as the best tool to accomplish the restoration.
The transformation process involved the efforts of USDOT, the District of Columbia, Amtrak, and private developers. The $160 million project took almost five years to complete, including the three-year renovation. The project goals included the authentic restoration of the original architecture, the reintroduction of train and urban mass transit services, and the addition of a wide range of retail, dining, and entertainment options. As a result of the public-private partnership, Union Station has been restored to its original grandeur and utility and is now the most frequented site in the District, with over 25 million visitors each year.