STAMFORD – The notice that the state Department of Transportation has posted at the entrance to the Stamford train station parking garage is good news.
It says the DOT will start to demolish the long-deteriorating garage on Feb. 1. Stamford residents who know the fraught history of the garage would say it then will do what it was built to do – fall down.
But the notice is also a sign of foreboding.
The last time DOT officials wanted to take down the 830-space garage, they entered into a “public-private partnership” with a developer who proposed a million-square-foot housing, office, hotel and retail complex for the Station Place site, and planned to push commuter parking out to South State Street.
Stamford residents balked at the idea of not only increasing the hike for commuters, but adding to the already impossible congestion on Station Place and surrounding streets.
That was a decade ago, when DOT officials said the land they own on Station Place, directly across from the train station, was the state’s most valuable real estate. In public documents, DOT officials said their priority for choosing a project would be how much money the developer’s proposal would generate for the state.
Then the DOT took a mile of South State Street, city property, to build a new parking garage for the Stamford train station.
The DOT chose a developer, John McClutchy of JHM Group, for the Station Place project. But McClutchy ran into problems with his partners and the public-private project died.
The old garage, though, continued to crumble, so the DOT went ahead with building a new one on South State Street.
Replacement almost ready
That now is nearly complete. It appears that DOT officials think it will be open by Feb. 1, since that’s the day they plan to start tearing down the 1985 garage on Station Place.
But the DOT is figuring that out, spokesman Josh Morgan said.
“We are still working on some of the final details in advance of the anticipated February 1 start date,” Morgan said Tuesday.
Demolition is expected to take about six months, Morgan said.
“During the demolition, Station Place will be open to one-way traffic. However, there will be times during the work, such as when the existing pedestrian bridge is removed, that the entire roadway will have to be closed and detours put in place,” he said. “We’re still developing those plans in coordination with Stamford officials.”
A 2004 addition to the original garage will “remain intact and in use,” Morgan said.
He did not reply to a question about the DOT’s plans for the Station Place site.
DOT officials who’ve been asked over the last several months have not offered details, except to say they are looking for opportunities.
The former DOT commissioner, Joe Giulietti, has said the agency was seeking investors for a project on Station Place. His predecessor, Jim Redecker, brought in McClutchy.
Redecker at the time refused to release details about McClutchy’s plans, saying they were “proprietary,” even though the development was to be built on public property using $35 million in public funding.
Why move the garage?
According to a section of the DOT’s website that explains the Stamford garage project, agency officials moved it to South State Street “to optimize the use of state-owned land adjacent to” the train station.
“The South State Street site will help disperse traffic and parking activity from Station Place,” according to the website, which does not address whether a development on Station Place would only bring traffic back in.
The website says the DOT did not put the new garage on Station Place because “the department needs to maintain as much state-owned commuter parking as possible during construction of the new garage.”
The only information on the website that directly addresses the agency’s intent for Station Place says, “There are currently no plans for redevelopment of the site for parking or other uses.”
The reaction of Stamford residents to train station projects is based on decades of distrust.
It began around 1980, when the Federal Railroad Administration decided to award $50 million to Stamford for a new train station and four-level garage. The federal government agreed to pay 70 percent of the cost, the state 20 percent, and the city 10 percent.
Problems from the start
The railroad administration chose the design and architects, and the city oversaw the construction that began in 1983.
A few months after work started on the garage, a city building official found cracks in the support beams, and shut the project down.
It was discovered that the concrete contractor had skimped on installing steel support rods. The contractor fixed the beams by adding a huge garage support column, but the structure continued to fail.
The federal government took over construction, made repairs, and the garage and train station opened in 1987.
Within two years, the garage was too small. Stamford had become the busiest stop on Metro-North Commuter Railroad, after Grand Central Terminal in New York. The new garage was hundreds of parking spaces short of demand.
A 1,200-space addition was not built until 15 years later. But, soon after it opened in 2004, DOT officials said they had to close the original garage, far before its lifespan, for repairs.
The Station Place garage kept losing concrete, exposing the reinforcement rods and showing daylight through the floors. In 2015, chunks of concrete fell from one floor into another below, and the DOT shut down half the garage for good.
Soon, the whole thing will come down.
The new station garage
On South State Street, the $82 million new garage has seven levels and about 930 parking spaces, roughly 130 more than the old one.
The new garage has a pedestrian ramp from the second level to the Track 5 platform at the train station; and a glass-enclosed pedestrian bridge that extends over Washington Boulevard from level four of the garage to the train station.
During public hearings held by the DOT before construction of the new garage began in 2021, commuters asked how much longer it will take to get to the train station from South State Street, given that the old garage was adjacent.
According to DOT records from the hearings, the response from agency officials lacked specifics, saying it “will depend on where you park in the garage and to which track you are going or coming from. As an example, your travel time from Level 2 in the new garage to Track 5 for a trip to New York will be shorter than a comparable trip from the original garage or the 2004 garage. However, a return trip from Track 4 to the new garage will be longer than a comparable trip to the original garage or the 2004 garage.”