Main Street Station Bus Plan Riles Up Bottom Merchants 

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GRTC Transit System wants to locate a central transfer station on the back end of Main Street Station in Shockoe Bottom -- to the dismay of some neighbors.

Currently, passengers who need to change bus lines mid-trip gather in front of the Library of Virginia at Eighth and Broad streets. Two round benches and a pair of metal umbrellas offer the only available shelter.

John Lewis, GRTC's chief executive, envisions a covered, centralized transfer center where riders could use ticket vending machines and restrooms. The warehouse space attached to Main Street Station seems like the perfect solution, he says: It's close to downtown and right by the train lines, but best of all, the city owns it. Retail and state offices have nested there in the past, but it sits vacant.

"I think it's going to have a huge impact," Lewis says. "It's going to take transfers off of street corners … and enable us to operate more efficiently."

Lewis has been working closely with city administration officials and says they're "behind the project." He planned to present the proposal to City Council April 14.

City officials did not respond to number of phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

The proposal is preliminary, but Lewis will need to move fast. A significant portion of the project must be designed by the end of this year in order to apply for certain federal funds. Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation will be publishing a six-year forecast for state transit money this summer, another potential money stream.

William Landon, manager of the Old City Bar next to Main Street Station and a partner in White House Catering, thinks the transfer station "could easily be bad for business."

"You've got a bunch of idling buses waiting to take people, and people waiting for transfer who are not necessarily going to improve the neighborhood," says Landon, a member of the Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association. "They're basically saddling us with something [GRTC wants] to get off the main areas of Broad Street."

Landon says the property, abutted by ample parking, would be better used for entertainment, like an indoor soccer arena or rollerblading rink.

Another Shockoe Bottom businessman, asking to remain anonymous, is more frank. "It's going to end up being a racial and political mess," he says.

Lewis doesn't buy it. "That's the old way of doing things in Richmond," he says.

"What is bad for business is having an inefficient public transit system in which 10,000 transfers take place on street corners throughout the city," he writes in an e-mail. "GRTC takes up too much real estate for long bus stops to accommodate street corner transfers thereby reducing the number of parking spots that could be supporting downtown businesses."

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