Amtrak Station at Tower City? Awwww Hell Yeah!

click to enlarge Amtrak Station at Tower City? Awwww Hell Yeah!
Courtesy All Aboard Ohio
The board of directors at the nonprofit passenger rail advocacy group All Aboard Ohio (AAO) has voted that Tower City should be the site of Cleveland's  new Amtrak hub, given the significant increase in daily train departures proposed by Amtrak with funding from the Biden administration.

In Amtrak's vision, Cleveland would see 22 departures every day, including an intrastate route connecting Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati. All Aboard Ohio says moving the train hub back to Tower City, where the Cleveland Union Terminal was built in 1929 and located until the 70s, "finally makes sense."

“It didn’t make sense with Amtrak running just one or two trains each day in the middle of the night," said Ken Prendergast, AAO's Public Affairs Director, in a press release. "But it does make sense for Amtrak’s proposed Cleveland mini-hub in bringing significant new passenger traffic and business activity to downtown Cleveland.”

Amtrak currently operates out of its "Lakeshore Station" off the Shoreway near E. 9th, and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has said that he'd like to incorporate an expanded Lakeshore Station into a comprehensive lakefront development plan that includes a new land bridge.

AAO says it would not oppose expansion at the existing site, but that Tower City would offer considerably more multi-modal connections, as Tower City represents Cleveland's central bus and rapid transit hub and could offer additional connectivity with the expansion of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and a relocated Greyhound bus hub. AAO says that Greyhound, which currently sees five times more yearly passengers than Amtrak, "would likely follow" Amtrak to a new hub.

Furthermore, unlike a lakeshore hub, a Tower City station would not have to contend with freight train traffic. (An Amtrak spokesperson, for the record, told that the agency would welcome a community conversation about "improving or relocating" the Amtrak station.)

The Tower City hub would be an expensive endeavor. Prendergast told Scene in a follow-up conversation that a new station could cost something like $400 million, which would include the construction of the station itself, a parking deck and significant track work to reconnect linkages that were severed after the Union Terminal closed in 1977.

"But the point to make is that this going to cost a lot of money regardless of location," Prendergast said. "Look at what the city's trying to do with the land bridge. That's a couple hundred million. And rerouting the 70-plus freight trains per day would cost another couple hundred million. This is a big slice of pie. But Cleveland is the mini-hub that Amtrak wants between Chicago and the East Coast. People have to understand: We'd be busier than Seattle or Milwaukee or St. Louis, all of which have anywhere from 500,ooo to 1 million passengers per year."

Prendergast said the good news is that Sherwin-Williams has donated to the City of Cleveland the riverfront property on which its current research and development facility sits. That could be demolished, and the western portion of a new station could be build around the Federal courthouse. 

"I hate to see them go to Brecksville," Prendergast said of Sherwin's R&D staff, "but they're vacating that site, and this is really Cleveland's last chance of doing something at that location."

Prendergast moonlights as the city's most well-connected real estate blogger. He said that Dan Gilbert's Bedrock Detroit, which owns the Avenue at Tower City, is currently considering building an office for Rocket Mortgage connected to Tower City, or another repurposing of the property which could impinge on a potential new station. 

"Something's cooking down there," Prendergast said. "And if Bedrock builds something without a 25-foot clearance for trains, we're done."

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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