After more than two years of planning, Metro's architectural gem of a downtown rail terminal is dead in the water with the transit authority electing to scrap the project for a less expensive option.
The terminal, located at Main and Capitol where three rail lines will meet in late 2014, was envisioned as a sort of centerpiece in the Metro's hard-won efforts to bring efficient public transportation to a city long associated with cars, highways and sprawl.
Designed by award-winning firm Snøhetta — the team behind New York's current Times Square reconstruction project and a one-time contender in the upcoming Museum of Fine Arts, Houston expansion — the downtown rail terminal took its inspiration from Houston's sudden summertime downpours . . . one of the joys/nightmares of any Bayou City commute.
Led by Snøhetta partner and UT-Austin grad Craig Dykers, the $2-million design would carry rainwater away from the platform through a sequence of stalactite-looking funnels. Metro's special architectural jury selected the project from more than 70 entries in February 2012.
With an allotted budget of only $600,000 to $1.2 million for the project — plus an addition $600,000 contribution from the Downtown District for the landmark station — Metro officials took almost a year and a half to finally approve the plans, which became official in September.
But during a recent board meeting, Metro trustees dropped the Snøhetta design in favor of a basic $1 million canopy, similar to those seen throughout the light rail system. According to the Chronicle, chairman Gilbert Garcia said the transit station project has been "mismanaged from the get-go."
By going with a standard station, Metro will forfeit the Downtown District's $600,000, which only applied to the Snøhetta plan.
The rejected $2-million design would carry rainwater away from the platform through a sequence of stalactite-looking funnels.
Interim Metro CEO Tom Lambert tells CultureMap his organization has been working directly with Snøhetta for the past several months to lower costs. While the architecture firm reworked some of its initial plans and shortened the overall length of the canopy, a budget-friendly design that could be completed by fall 2014 never materialized.
"This is going to be a very important and busy station to our passengers," Lambert says. "The main issue is that we have an extremely limited amount of time at this point and we really have to get moving." He explains that the board needs to make sure the project is something Metro and its customers can afford in the long run.
Dykers, who was unable to be reached for comment, told the Chronicle his firm is confused by Metro's decision, noting that his team has been accommodating requests to make the station more affordable for more than a year.
“This is a labor of love for us," he said. "We have already and continue to be open to making the design work. We have been working steadily to make this happen . . . We just want what is best for the city.”