Wondering whatever happened to the competition entries from architects competing for the new Main St. light rail station planned for the block between Capitol and Rusk streets downtown, where the new East End and Southeast Lines cross the existing rail line? After a long silence about the project, Metro board members voted yesterday to scrap the plan for a signature station at that location, and to spend $1.05 million to build a standard canopy there instead.
The winner of the invitation-only competition — which included SHoP Architects, LTL Architects, and Neil Denari from New York as well as Houston’s Interloop—Architecture — was New York and Oslo firm Snøhetta. But who’d have known it?
According to Dug Begley’s report in today’s Chronicle, though the jury selected the firm’s design in February, Metro never got around to ratifying it until 19 months later. But even then, Metro made no announcement of the firm’s selection. “The whole thing went dark afterwards and no one learned who won or what was happening,” a design professional familiar with the early part of the process reported last month. That’s when the first word came to most other interested parties that Metro was considering other plans. Snøhetta, alarmed that the project could end up going down the drain, encouraged supporters of the project to press Metro committee members not to can it.
The problem, of course, was money. Begley reports estimates for Snøhetta’s selected design came in at $2.164 million, $600K of which would have been footed by the Downtown Management District. But Metro had only budgeted “between $600,000 and $1.2 million for the canopy, not including some electrical components and signs,” reports Begley. “The budget failed to account for those elements.”
Why couldn’t Metro have found other alternatives — a scaled-back design, or additional funding sources — in the year-and-a-half this project was quietly sitting? Metro’s interim CEO tells Begley officials aren’t exactly sure: “By the time officials started assessing the cost overruns and timing, [Tom] Lambert said, they found themselves in a predicament.” Some canopy design for the station had to be approved.
The canopy in Snøhetta’s winning design is concrete; rainwater would be funneled down to small portions of the platform, where an underground pipe drain would carry it away. This feature would result in $88,900 in annual maintenance costs, quadruple the amount typically budgeted for Metro’s standard design. But according to the transit agency, Snøhetta was already hard at work last month on a reduced-cost version of its project. By giving up on its plans for grand Central Station, Metro will lose the $600,000 promised for that purpose by the Downtown Management District, putting it over budget even for a no-frills replacement. It’ll also lose whatever international attention it might have received for a signature structure marking the meeting of the 3 rail lines.
- Signature downtown station plans shelved for Metro rail [Houston Chronicle ($)]
- Previously on Swamplot: 5 Designs for Houston’s New Main St. Central Station