Tampa Union Station has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974. Photo by Jim Langston/ Friends of Union Station
The spacious lobby area at Tampa Union Station was designed in 1912 when trains were a primary mode of transportation. Courtesy of Friends of Union Station
The City of Tampa is considering options for repurposing part of Tampa Union Station. Courtesy of Friends of Union Station
What to do with Tampa Union Station now that trains aren’t using it for daily trips?
A proposal floating around Tampa City Hall would upgrade the historic building and repurpose it to create workspaces for entrepreneurs, shops, artists, a coffee shop, and/or restaurants.
City leaders and the Friends of Tampa Union Station are considering the best options for keeping the two-story, 13,080-square-foot, city-owned train station alive even as it sits largely unused at 601 N. Nebraska Ave. and in need of at least $1 million in repairs.
The goal is to replace all the windows and turn the abandoned baggage claim into an events center. With six dedicated tracks and plenty of room for offices, stores, and other amenities, the station has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.
“[Right now] I don’t see a ‘wow’ to it,” says Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes, representing District 5. “I have to maintain the quality of the district; I have to maintain some historical value of the district. When people have concerns, when I see an opportunity like this one, we share that with other council members. … A lot of the council members agree with this type of venture so, hopefully, we get something going.”
When the building was first constructed in 1912, the Tampa Union Station Company bought it for $250,000. The station dates back to serving railroad passengers throughout both world wars, the Great Depression, and into the Amtrak era. In 1984 the station fell out of commission at a point of disrepair until it was bought again in 1991 by the Tampa Union Station Preservation and Redevelopment Inc. non-profit for $600,000. By 1998 it was back up and running after the non-profit raised $4 million to restore it and then donated it to the city.
Jackson McQuigg, a part of Friends of Tampa Union Station, played a huge role in the preservation of the station in the 1980s and 1990s.
“My dad and I watched with growing disbelief as the station was left to ruin. When ‘for sale’ signs were put up on the building in 1987, we came together and organized a grassroots organization to save the station,” McQuigg says.
The main goal today is to keep the building stable by raising money for the nonprofit and seeking out more tenants for the station with the rent going toward the ongoing preservation.
“At a minimum, there should be fast and free wifi and more spaces to sit,” says Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson, representing District 4. “There also should be a quality coffee shop/restaurant and co-workspace for entrepreneurs.” The leases would be with the City of Tampa and will hopefully be implemented in the middle of 2021 depending on COVID.
Why should Tampa and other Bay Area residents care about this restoration process?
“We need multimodal transportation,” Carlson says. “If train service is more frequent and upgraded it could be an alternative to our increasingly busy roads and airports. Union Station is a historic building. Such buildings give a community character and depth.”
With increasing popularity in other forms of transportation such as ride-sharing, bicycling, and air travel, many people in the Tampa Bay Area seem to have forgotten that traveling by train is still a resourceful alternative option.
“We can -- and should -- have great trains to go along with our highways and airports! Why is this up for debate?” McQuigg asks. “Tampa has an amazing airport, which is well taken care of and there are always plans for highway improvements. Where’s the passenger train rail? It’s been 22 years since the station was restored originally and the train service is still so sparse. It’s time to change that.”
To get involved, join the non-profit support group Friends of Tampa Union Station. For $100, individuals, groups, or companies can buy an engraved brick and have it installed at the station through their engraved brick program with proceeds going toward the endowment fund at the Community Foundation. Additionally, show up at the City Council to support the effort when it’s discussed.