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Baltimore Penn Station redevelopment aims to enhance experience for modern passengers

The renovation of Baltimore’s Penn Station will transform the historic transportation center into a modern and more functional transit “experience” for passengers that will include shops and eateries, glass windows and outdoor plazas with fine landscaping detail, a team of developers and architects said Thursday.

The multi-phase renovation will produce a three-tiered station aimed at maintaining the character of the century-old “Head House” while linking it to a sleek commercial center that backs up onto Lanvale Street.

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The expansion will reduce the “knot of traffic” at the entrance and include space for food trucks, parking for bikes and scooters, designated bus zones and pedestrian-friendly walkways, said Peter Stubb, principal at the Gensler design firm, who presented plans at a virtual Urban Design and Architecture Advisory Panel meeting Thursday morning.

“It’ll be a hub for travel but also a destination that people wouldn’t mind going to an hour ahead of time,” said UDAAP chair Pavlina Ilieva after reviewing the renderings. “It’s clear and easy to get to things.”

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A virtual rendering of the renovations to Baltimore's Penn Station from the Charles Street side. It will include outdoor plazas and pavilions, plus direct views of the trains.
A virtual rendering of the renovations to Baltimore's Penn Station from the Charles Street side. It will include outdoor plazas and pavilions, plus direct views of the trains. (Gensler)

The project focuses first on Penn Station’s old Head House, the main building on North Charles Street where a daily rush of commuters, cars, taxis and ride-share providers meet. The team has submitted permits to begin work on that first stage, which could start as early as the end of this year and last two years, according to a phasing timeline provided by Beatty Development, one of the project’s partners.

The design and development team secured a $90 million investment from Amtrak in April 2019 and a $3 million Maryland Historic Revitalization tax credit in December. In February, investment firm Blueprint Local contributed an “undisclosed amount” in Opportunity Zone funding. The investors previously infused capital into Baltimore and Austin, Texas, as well as San Antonio.

Penn Station, a central stop along the Northeast Corridor, is Amtrak’s eighth busiest station with more than 3 million passengers each year. Its redevelopment factors into a $400 million to $600 million project announced in December 2017 to reshape the surrounding area into a transit-oriented hub of apartments, shops, offices and a hotel.

A virtual rendering of the plans for the overhaul of Baltimore's Penn Station, which will be renovated and expanded into a modern commercial center.
A virtual rendering of the plans for the overhaul of Baltimore's Penn Station, which will be renovated and expanded into a modern commercial center. (Gensler)

The design and development partners have participated in several active community meetings and town hall-style discussions, Stubb said. Those conversations led to a number of incorporated features, including elevated outdoor seating areas meant to look like porches or stoops, he said.

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Glass windows will provide a “train as theater” element for commuters, Stubb said, where people can watch the coming-and-going of trains as they mingle and explore. The design also will feature a granite exterior, steel detail work, copper and a “green roof” with vegetation on the commercial building.

Jingpeng Gu, president of landscape architecture firm Mahan Rykiel, said the project aims to accommodate a large volume of automobile traffic while also creating a sense of cohesion along the outer surface of the station with seating and dining. High canopy trees will be planted to give the downtown neighborhood more greenery, she said.

“We want the space to be iconic and also draw some spiritual meaning to it,” Gu said.

The project also will include track improvements to accommodate Amtrak’s next generation of high-speed trains.

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