Union Station developers move forward on controversial wing buildings

One of the most contentious aspects of Union Station's ambitious redevelopment -- the construction of two modern wing buildings on either side of the historic station -- is poised to move forward. Yesterday, the Union Station Neighborhood Company, the master developers on the project, announced the selection of local architects Anderson Mason Dale and Semple Brown Design as joint designers for the buildings. The corresponding press release carefully avoids using the now controversy-laden term "wing buildings," opting instead to obliquely refer to "the first new buildings at Union Station" that "will form the walls of new 'public rooms' for the community along Wynkoop Street." However the developers choose to refer to the structures, their design work will move forward as the transit portion of the Union Station project breaks ground this summer -- if all goes as planned.

Considering the heated objections voiced about the proposed wing buildings -- some argue the structures will block views of the historic station and detract from the public plaza in front of the station -- it's worth wondering whether Anderson Mason Dale, known for its work on Denver's Alfred A. Arraj Federal Courthouse and CU's Anschutz Medical Campus, and Semple Brown Design, which was lead designer for Larimer Square and the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, were chosen in part for their ability to handle unruly crowd control. If that's the case, they may be in for less work than expected: The wing buildings' main challengers have all but conceded defeat.

"We don't think there's much way of us preventing the buildings from being built right now," says Bert Melcher, a representative of the Open Space Initiative Group (OSIG), an advocacy organization that's spearheaded the opposition. "We think it's probably a 98-percent done deal. We are still going to say what we think is right, but we don't think it is going to influence anything."

OSIG isn't going away, though -- they believe there's still a lot of advocacy needed to keep the behemoth project on track. For one thing, OSIG, like other Union Station observers, has concerns about recently unveiled architectural elements for the transit hub, such as the proposed train shed behind the historic station. They're also concerned about how, in this dire economy, the developer and public agencies are going to tie in the thirteen different funding sources they've identified to jointly fund the $477 million construction project. "It's just impossible to understanding the whole thing," says Melcher. "There are a lot of undetermined matters at this point."

Think you can make heads and tails of it? Here's a recently released flow chart of the funding and oversight behind the project. To us, the bloody thing looks more convoluted than a New York City subway map.

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