COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST) — If Amtrak’s vision for establishing passenger rail service between Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati becomes a reality, local officials are prepared with a plan for where Columbus’ downtown station would go.
The Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority envisions a two-level station at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, near the intersection of High Street and Nationwide Boulevard, according to a newly released plan.
Convention Facilities Authority Executive Director Don Brown said the plans for the nearly $23 million downtown station, which would be paid for mostly by Amtrak, are conceptual and dependent on Amtrak securing approval to launch the passenger rail service by the state of Ohio, as well as freight operators CSX and Norfolk Southern, which currently control the rail lines themselves.
“All of this is contingent on Amtrak’s vision for re-establishing passenger service on what they call the 3C+D corridor,” Brown told us, referring to Amtrak’s vision for service across Ohio. “The development of a station here or at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport or in Dayton or anywhere else along the line will follow the approval of the rail service itself.”
If the plan comes to fruition, Brown said the Greater Columbus Convention Center is a “natural location for the station” and has been the consensus location of community leaders. Rail lines run underneath the convention center, which sits on the site of Union Station prior to its demolition in 1979.
“The east-west and north-south tracks come together just below the convention center,” Brown said.
The proposed station would be at the convention center’s south building, and would require the demolition and relocation of the Starbucks that is near the circular drive at the convention’s south entrance.
Amtrak passengers would enter the station at street level, and then go down one level to where the existing rail tracks are to get on the train.
Brown said several other potential sites at the convention center were studied but this was determined to be the best one.
“It maximizes the visitor experience when they arrive in Columbus,” Brown said. “It puts them right on High Street. It’s got high visibility. It provides immediate access to lodging, immediate access to dining and entertainment, and sports activities in the Short North and Arena Districts. We think it’s a boon for generating additional visitor traffic to the attractions that are already in place in the Arena District and the Short North.”
The Starbucks would be relocated to another location in the convention center with high foot traffic, Brown said.
Amtrak would cover most of the costs to develop the station, Brown said, but local municipalities may be asked to chip in if Amtrak doesn’t cover the full $23 million estimated development cost.
Brown said he has confidence that the Amtrak vision will actually come to fruition.
“Number one, Amtrak has the money to do it,” Brown said, referring to the $66 billion it received in the recently passed infrastructure deal. “Number two, Amtrak has prioritized this route. Number three, there’s a strong business case for it. It will generate $130 million of economic growth in the state. That’s why I’m confident.”
State approval is still required, Brown said, because the state of Ohio would eventually have to cover an estimated $18 million to $20 million for rail line maintenance.
State approval, however, doesn’t appear to be a sure thing. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has been quiet about his thoughts on the plan.
“We continue to review the recently passed federal infrastructure bill as it relates to passenger rail and have not made any further comments at this time,” DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney told us on Monday by email.
For more business headlines, go to ColumbusBusinessFirst.com.