Tampa Union Station: Transforming a part of downtown's past into a piece of its future

The next stop on Tampa’s journey as a 21st Century downtown may be a train station built in 1912.

Today, Tampa Union Station serves more than 100,000 Amtrak passengers annually on routes between Miami and New York. On one recent weekday afternoon, a sports team of teenagers from South Africa arrived at the station their way to an event in Sarasota.

The City of Tampa and Friends of Tampa Union Station, a nonprofit working for the restoration of the station, think the two-story brick building at 601 N. Nebraska Ave. can be much more than just a train station. 

“There's a lot that can be done to activate the station so it’s an active train station and a community space as well,” says Friends of Tampa Union Station President Brandie Miklus says. “There’s a lot of potential.”

An approximately $2 million renovation project slated for next year will repair and modernize the station while preserving the historic character of a building that was saved from demolition and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

After the renovation, the big picture vision is to maintain the Amtrak station while turning unused and underused areas of a building with rapidly redeveloping downtown neighborhoods all around it into a community event and gathering place steeped in character and history.

Possibilities proffered for the first floor include a coffee shop and bringing in more evening events like weddings and dance parties when the station is closed to passengers.City officials and Friends of Tampa Union Station believe a renovation scheduled for 2023 will attract more evening events to the historic train station. More community groups and events could make use of the upstairs board room, where photos capturing moments in time from the station’s history line the walls and a large wood conference table stands in the middle of the room. The upstairs office space, where unused desks are scattered around the room, is envisioned as a business incubator or coworking space.

A renovated station can be another unique piece of the puzzle for a bustling downtown. A recently completed smaller-scale renovation project has already generated some additional activity. On a recent weekday evening, the USF School of Architecture and Community Design held an event in the station’s newly renovated baggage building, which dates back to the opening of the station in 1912. Inside, pictures of moments from the station’s past line the brick walls and the original luggage scale remains in place to this day.

For years, the baggage building has been rarely used except for “Tampa Train Day,” a popular event on the second Saturday in May that celebrates the anniversary of the historic train station’s opening in May 1912 and our nostalgic love of train travel. After COVID hit, that event has not happened the last three years but will return in 2023, Miklus says. 

The baggage building renovation added an HVAC system and fire sprinklers for the first time, upgraded the electrical service, rebuilt windows and doors and restored areas of the floor with period-era pavers from a City of Tampa storage yard. A charitable bequest from John McQuigg and grants from the Hillsborough County Historic Preservation Challenge Grant Program and the Tom E. Dailey Foundation funded that project in what Miklus describes as a successful public-private partnership.  

The late McQuigg was a board member of Tampa Union Station Preservation & 
Redevelopment, the nonprofit that raised money for the earlier major renovation and repair that led to the reopening of the station in 1998. Today, his son Jackson McQuigg is on the board of Friends of Tampa Union Station, Miklus says.

At the adjacent main station building, the significant renovation and repair work needed includes new plaster, roof repairs, electrical and restroom upgrades, window and door replacements, painting, termite treatment and the installation of public art. The city has selected The Collage Companies to handle that project. 

Tampa’s Community Redevelopment Agency has put funding in place up front to accelerate the project with the idea that city government and the Friends of Tampa Union Station group will go after grants to reimburse the CRA. Miklus says the nonprofit group, with the assistance of the city, has already won approval for a nearly $500,000 state grant. They plan to apply for a larger grant from the Federal Railroad Administration next year. 

Miklus sums up the decades-long dedication volunteer nonprofit groups have had to restoring and preserving the historic train station with a quote attributed to Daniel Sack, a historic preservation advocate in Buffalo, New York:

"We regret much of what we've built; we regret much of what we've torn down. But we've never regretted preserving anything."

For more information go to Friends of Tampa Union Station
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Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.