Just how threatened is the Union Station redevelopment project?

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A Denver Post story today noted that an unprecedented attempt to score up to $320 million in loans from two federal agencies in order to bankroll the still woefully underfunded Union Station redevelopment could be on the rocks because the project's managers haven't been able to get a favorable rating on the project's debt or provide assurance that the commercial development around the station will justify the ambitious transit work. The Post story notes the muddle "could mean that construction on the project may not start in earnest until the first quarter of 2010 instead of next month." But that could be putting it nicely.

After all, officials behind the project have admitted that scoring both these federal loans are a do-or-die funding scenario -- one that, if it fails, would leave the entire plan in tatters.

Now, the movers and shakers behind Union Station's redevelopment have become skilled at bureaucratic ninjutsu, scoring one coup after another even when all hope seems lost. But even if they manage to win both federal loans, that money won't be forthcoming until the feds have dealt with a lawsuit filed last May by the Colorado Rail Passenger Association (ColoRail). ColoRail feels the redevelopment too heavily favors commercial interests -- instead of calling the project a "TOD," a buzzword for transit-oriented development, ColoRail president Ira Schreiber refers to it as a "DOT," short for development-oriented transit -- and wants the Federal Transit Administration to reopen the Union Station environmental impact statement to look at the alternative construction options.

"Once the suit got filed, that tied up the federal purse strings," says Schreiber. Those strings won't be untied until a judge renders a decision on the lawsuit, which Schreiber thinks won't happen until early January. But if the judge finds in favor of ColoRail and orders that parts of the environmental impact statement should be reexamined, that purse could stay shut for a long time to come.

Civic boosters are hosting "A Night in Old Union Station," a swank gala to raise money for part of the station's redevelopment on November 11. Hopefully the party won't turn out to be a funeral.

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