Coming soon to Richmond: a well-lighted, glass-encased train shed. Still to be determined: what exactly will go inside.
The city issued a notice last week saying it intends to award a $33 million contract to renovate the train shed behind Main Street Station.
City officials say residents can expect to start seeing changes later this year, with work complete in July 2016.
The development plan was announced by Mayor Dwight Jones in 2011 and cooked up by consultants following a two-year study. Essentially, it calls for gutting the building, replacing the structure's corrugated-metal siding with glass and installing heavy-duty architectural lighting.
Like moths to a multimillion-dollar, glowing glass box, shoppers and tenants will then flock to the new-and-improved train shed. Or so goes the logic behind the redevelopment.
The project manager for the city's Department of Economic Development, Jeannie Welliver, says the city plans to turn the first floor into a market à la Union Station in Washington and Reading Terminal in Philadelphia — bustling, packed places filled with an array of local vendors.
"We want a mix of cultures, arts, crafts, flower markets, breweries, restaurants, to-go foods," Welliver says. "This has been their thing, to create an authentic market that capitalizes on the best the city has to offer."
Plans are looser for the second floor, she says, but the city hopes to use the space for some kind of outdoor, sports-related enterprise.
The city hasn't secured funding to build out the interior of either floor once renovations are complete and no tenants have signed on, though those conversations are happening, Welliver says. The total cost of the project is expected to be $45 million, she says, with 90 percent of that funding coming through federal and state transportation grants.
The only element of the plan that's a sure thing for now is the renovation and the installation of a tourist welcome center, Welliver says.
The train shed, one of the last gable-roofed train sheds in the country, began life in 1900 as an open-air passenger depot. In the 1980s, developers David White and Larry Shifflett converted it into a mall, which lasted about two years. The state took over the building and used it as offices until an air-quality scandal forced it to abandon the space. The building's floor is built over train ties and the place still reeks of creosote, the tarry chemical preservative in which those ties are soaked.
In addition to the lingering smell, booths set up for retail and later converted for office use still stand in the building. Welliver says the renovation will rip all that out to emphasize the historic, riveted steel structure.
What makes the city think its latest plans for a market will fare better than the previous short-lived effort?
Welliver says the focus on local vendors and dining coupled with the population growth in Shockoe Bottom improves the market's chances for success.
The train shed lies between the mayor's planned ballpark and slave heritage sites..
"What we're talking about is not a mall with Socks Galore and Izod," she says. "We're talking about an authentic city market like the authentic city markets that are thriving all over the country.