By: Andrew Muscat
Every major global city has a critical transportation hub that acts as the main entrance and exit to their respective metropolises. In Toronto, Union Station undoubtedly serves this key purpose within our great city. Union Station facilitates the movement of over 200,000 citizens daily through its transportation systems. Despite its vital role, the station’s infrastructure was badly in need of repairs and construction has been underway since 2009 to make significant improvements to the hub. Already these changes have made a difference to the station in appearance and functionality and yet there is still more to come! ULI Toronto’s Members Only Tour- Union Station: Revitalized on January 26 took those in attendance through these changes while providing insights into the past, present and future of the historic station.
The sold-out tour (the fastest in ULI Toronto’s history, at that!) featured the major public and private components within Union Station and described the numerous efforts to improve the aesthetic appeal and functionality of the station.
ULI’s Executive Director, Richard Joy, kicked off the tour began in a presentation room within the West Wing. Joy ecstatically opened the event and handed the reins over to Lesley Thompson, Metrolinx’s Manager of Infrastructure – Union Station. Thompson took the group back to 1919 and outlined the history and culture imbued within the 8.6-acre site that is Union Station. She described how the building evolved over time and provided details about this process up until the proposed completion date in 2025. This fascinating presentation made one appreciate the building by highlighting features many did not even know existed, like the historic windows along track three.
Thompson then handed things over to Brad Keast, VP of Development at Osmington, to discuss the retail future of Union Station. Osmington Inc, being the property’s leaseholder, has taken a primary role in the development process and seeks to make the best use of such a historic space. Keast outlined the challenges and strengths of the revitalization project and gave members a great idea of the vision moving forward. Ultimately, after all is said and done, Union Station will be a world class civic experience that moves well beyond transit. Keast and his team envision a place to facilitate a compelling culinary, cultural and retail experience. From the proposed mid-level fine dining, to the progressive fresh market, Union Station hopes to retain its prestigious and comforting retail while still providing a multifunctional space to the public. Keast and his team presented the bright future of the station and referenced numerous community-centric events, such as Union Summer, as key milestones toward their end goals.
As the informative presentation drew to a close, Keast led the group through the West Wing toward the walking tour portion of the event. Starting in the newly finished West Wing waiting room, members were welcomed by the fresh sight of granite and artistic seating. The group then entered the historic Great Hall, where many changes were taking place. Amidst the aptly named “Great Clean”, the hall was full of scaffolding for numerous restoration projects. From new restaurants, lighting and futuristic projectors on the south wall, the Great Hall has a modern and beautiful future ahead.
After a short question and answer session, the group moved through to the new York Concourse. The space, although not entirely complete, is bustling with activity as visitors wait for their trains or enjoy a quick snack. With over 4,000 square feet for retail, the design team for the York Concourse gave tenants liberty in their construction and embraced creative ventures such as the first ever McCafe Franchise and Starbucks Express. The one of a kind setting allows for unique strategies that cater to the modern urban environment. Keast continued and brought the focus onto 447 load-bearing columns within the facility. He outlined their importance and drew attention to clever pillar innovations such as plush seating and digital columns. These features help make the space futuristic and functional, showing the true potential of the York Concourse.
Highlighting present construction, the discussion shifted to connectivity, including the future links between all Toronto-region transportation systems. Constructed with numerous tunnels, the future Union Station will provide convenient links between the ACC, TTC, Union Pearson Express and GO Transit. These connections will vastly improve the user experience as they move from one location to the next.
Finally, as the tour came to an end, the group made its way past the Union Pearson Express to the cool comforting CIBC Upstairs Lounge for some great conversation and refreshments. It was evident that the group was excited for the changes ahead as Toronto welcomes a new and improved Union Station. Such a hallmark city deserves a hallmark transportation hub and the work done so far shows great promise.