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Growth And Opportunities

Development of Urban Train corridor will revitalize areas around stations, bring business opportunities, and increase land and property values


July 11, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

All aboard: Starting this month, developers may begin to bid on millions of dollars in office, commercial, entertainment, residential, and mixed used projects that will spur economic development throughout the metro area.

As construction of the Urban Train mass transit system comes closer to completion, a remarkable transformation is taking place along the train’s corridor in the San Juan metro area, and around its stations and neighborhoods.

The first phase of the $2 billion Urban Train (UT) project, whose construction started in May of 1995, encompasses 16 stations on 10.68 miles of track from Bayamon to Santurce.

The island’s most expensive and complex infrastructure project ever built is slated to be fully operational by September 2003, but the UT is already changing the landscape of the San Juan metro area in a dramatic way.

More than just a mass transit system that will reduce traffic congestion and pollution, the UT represents a unique opportunity to transform the San Juan metro area’s urban growth pattern–and the areas around UT stations–into more habitable and livable communities.

"Livable communities are neighborhoods that include a range of housing options, jobs, commercial services, and recreational opportunities all within easy access of mass transit services," Department of Transportation and Public Works Secretary Jose Izquierdo told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. "These are communities in which residents, workers, and shoppers can get around without the need of an automobile."

This would be accomplished by redirecting public and private investment towards the urban centers of San Juan, Santurce, Hato Rey, Rio Piedras, and Bayamon–transforming these and the UT corridor–into intensive, varied-use urban redevelopment zones through the land use pattern commonly known as Transit Oriented Development (TOD).

According to Urban Train Joint Development Project Consultant & Planner Carlos Novoa, parcels around the UT stations of Martinez Nadal, San Francisco, Domenech, Roosevelt, Hato Rey, and Sagrado Corazon are the ones that the Highway & Transit Authority (HTA) has contemplated in the Requests For Proposals (RFPs) this year. The RFPs for these parcels are expected to come out later this month.

"TOD refers to pedestrian-friendly land development activities that are built within easy walking distance of a major transit station. TOD’s generally include a compact mix of different land uses that are oriented to public walkways, and automobile parking is minimized to promote pedestrian activity," said Izquierdo.

Locally, TOD is based on five main planning and urban design principles–a relatively dense development concentration around the UT stations; a linear segment development where there’s proximity between stations through a pedestrian or vehicular way that is clearly established; a pedestrian environment that is safe, highly interconnected, and pleasant; significantly lower parking requirements than in locations without a collective transport system; and mixed-use development throughout the entire corridor and areas surrounding individual stations to promote nighttime and weekend activities in addition to those available during regular working hours.

Joint development on HTA land

In order to develop these parcels and allow for transit-oriented development, the HTA’s law had to be amended to authorize the agency to reach agreements with other entities (public and private) for the use, activities, and structures adjacent to its transit facilities. This was done through Law 207 of 2000.

To promote the TOD, the Highway and Transportation Authority then decided to request Joint Development Program proposals for some of the parcels under its jurisdiction.

"The Joint Development Program is a federal initiative to help development of commercial, residential, or institutional use projects near HTA land, as well as through other types of commercial or real estate relationships with the agency," said Izquierdo.

The HTA owns some 110 acres of developable land throughout the first phase of the UT corridor, of which 30 acres (located in six stations) will be developed first through the joint development program.

The Planning Board, in conjunction with HTA and the municipalities of Bayamon, Guaynabo, and San Juan have begun to establish new special development districts for each station area, based on a collective transport oriented-development model, explained Izquierdo.

"Until these special development districts with their new zoning codes are established, only projects within a 500-meter radius from a station’s access (influence zone) will be evaluated by the Planning Board for development," he said.

Through joint development projects, the HTA proposes to meet a series of public policy goals such as strengthening UT ridership, validate and promote development of areas beyond UT stations, job creation, UT parking, and generate revenue for the agency.

Proposed parcels for joint development

Martinez Nadal Station

The Martinez Nadal Station is located in the intersection of PR-20 (Martinez Nadal Expressway), PR-21, PR-19, and PR-17 (Piñero Avenue). The station is also nearby several established locations such as San Patricio Plaza, Corporate Office Park, and Hospital Metropolitano, and it offers direct access to the expressway.

"Martinez Nadal is one of four adjacent stations along PR-21 that have the potential to eventually become a backbone of transit-oriented development," said Novoa. "The other three stations are Las Lomas, San Francisco, and Medical Center."

The Martinez Nadal station has a projected daily ridership of 5,683 passengers. It has been designed as an active inter-modal and pedestrian station, with the following characteristics:

  • Feeder service for various public transportation routes
  • More than 1,100 park-and-ride spaces
  • 342 square meters of retail space inside the station
  • An extensive street, sidewalk, and plaza improvement program has been designed to improve the station’s environment and its integration to surrounding area

There are three parcels around the Martinez Nadal Station that have been identified by the HTA for joint development.

Parcel A–with approximately 8,000 square meters (two acres)–is located north of the station, between the PR-20 exit ramp, PR-17 (Piñero Avenue), and Las Lomas community.

"On Parcel A, the HTA envisions a walk-up or townhouse type residential joint development project. One of the objectives of this joint development projects is to extend the existing neighborhood and protect it from nearby transportation activities," said Novoa.

With 7,100 square meters (1.8 acres), Parcel B is located to the station’s east, adjacent to Las Lomas community.

The HTA also envisions a walk-up or townhouse type joint development residential project for Parcel B. And as with Parcel A, one of the objectives of this joint development project is to extend the existing neighborhood and protect it from nearby transportation activities.

The largest of the three parcels at Martinez Nadal station, Parcel C, is 12,358 square meters (3.14 acres). It is located south of the station’s entrance, and is part of a much wider area between the station and PR-21 known as the South area.

"The South area is being prepped to provide traffic flow improvements, including the station’s boulevard as well as widening of PR-21, improvements to sidewalks and plazas, and increase park-and-ride capacity," said Izquierdo.

The joint development of Parcel C is part of a master development plan that covers the entire South area. As joint development projects displace planned park-and-ride spaces, these will be required to provide replacement-parking capacity during peak hours, explained the DTPW Secretary.

For Parcel C, the HTA would like a dense and mixed-use transit-oriented development project that would include retail, residential, office, and parking facilities.

The frontal area along the station’s Boulevard should be dedicated to retail, restaurants, entertainment, or similar uses. Such uses must be coordinated with the retail concessions planned inside the station.

The upper floors should consist mainly of offices and/or residences. Parcel C and the entire South area have the capacity for a high-rise structure.

San Francisco Station

Located on the corner of PR-21 and De Diego Avenue, the San Francisco station is nearby the Veteran’s Hospital and close to the PR-21/65th Infantry Avenue corridor. Its location makes it a promising area for development.

The San Francisco station has a projected daily ridership of 3,875 passengers and has been designed an as inter-modal and pedestrian station with feeder service from various public transportation routes, as well as the Medical Center Trolley, 510 park-and-ride spaces, and 941 square meters of retail space.

The HTA has identified one parcel–Parcel A–for joint development at the San Francisco station. The parcel, located east of the park-and-ride, is 11,000 square meters (2.8 acres).

Since the joint development program will displace the 266 spaces originally planned for the park-and-ride, the HTA will require that the project provide with at least 266 parking spaces for UT passengers during peak hours at a rate that will promote the use of the Urban Train, explained Novoa.

"For the San Francisco station, the HTA has planned for a dense and mixed-use transit-oriented project development project for retail, residential, office and parking facilities to serve UT passengers and for other uses as well," said Izquierdo.

The joint development project for the San Francisco station envisions that the frontal area along De Diego Avenue should be used for retail, restaurant, entertainment, and other similar uses. These should be in accord with the established plan for the station’s retail concessions.

"The upper floors would be mainly for office and/or residential space. The offices could be for medical, institutional, or general use. The highest part of the structure must be located towards the side of the parcel closest to De Diego Avenue. A similar tower is contemplated as part of a future project to be built on an adjacent parcel west of the station," said Novoa.

Domenech Station

Located on the intersection of Manuel Domenech Street and Guayama Street with Muñoz Rivera Avenue, the Domenech station is next to the Labor & Human Resources Department and EDP College. It is surrounded by residential and commercial structures.

The Domenech station has a projected daily ridership of 2,547 passengers and is served by nearby bus stops. It has some 283 square meters of space allocated for retail concessions.

HTA has identified one parcel–Parcel A–for transit-oriented joint development at the Domenech station. It is separated by the narrow Arroyo Street.

"This parcel enjoys 100 meters of frontal area along Muñoz Rivera Avenue and is 4,544 square meters (1.2 acres). In this parcel, the HTA envisions a one or two story structure for retail use," Izquierdo indicated.

The spaces in front of Muñoz Rivera Avenue and Arroyo Street must be dedicated exclusively to retail, including restaurants or entertainment. The development around the station must significantly contribute to an active pedestrian environment, including nights and weekends, Novoa added.

The rear section of the parcel could be used to provide parking space and a service area, including the area underneath the trains’ guideway.

Roosevelt Station

The Roosevelt station is located on the intersection of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Muñoz Rivera Avenues, in the heart of Hato Rey’s Golden Mile. It is within walking distance to important financial institutions on Roosevelt Ave. and to Jose Gandara Park.

The station, with two identified parcels for transit-oriented joint development, has a projected daily ridership of 6,788 passengers. It is served by nearby bus stops, as well as the Hato Rey Traffic Center across street. The station includes some 833 square meters of concession space.

Parcel A is adjacent to the station’s south entrance and uses approximately 200 meters of frontal area along Muñoz Rivera Ave. The parcel is 17,000 square meters (4.3 acres), and could be divided–at HTA’s discretion–into two parcels during the RFP stage.

"For Parcel A, the HTA envisions a multi-story, dense development project that provides retail services such as restaurants and entertainment on the lower levels and residential or office use in the upper levels," said Novoa.

The frontal area along Muñoz Rivera Ave. must be allocated mainly for retail use. The impact of a parking entrance on Muñoz Rivera Ave. must be minimized as much as possible. The project must be designed to optimize the pedestrian access to the stations’ south entrance.

Additionally, the project on Parcel A must have a sensitive relationship with Gandara Park and should include a component for its renovation, Izquierdo said.

The second parcel available for joint development at Roosevelt station on Parcel B is located at the intersection of Roosevelt and Ponce de Loen avenues, with 9,267 square meters (2.3 acres). As with Parcel A, Parcel B could be divided into two parcels, at HTA’s discretion, during the RFP stage.

"As with Parcel A, the HTA envisions a dense, multi-story development project on Parcel B with offices or residences in the upper levels. The frontal area along Ponce de Leon Ave. and the corner section on Roosevelt Ave. must be dedicated mainly to retail space (including restaurants or entertainment)," said Novoa.

Hato Rey Station

The Hato Rey station is located on the intersection of Arterial B and Muñoz Rivera avenues, just north of Hato Rey’s Golden Mile financial district. It is adjacent to the new Puerto Rico Coliseum and within walking distance to important financial institutions and government buildings, as well as to the entrance to San Juan’s Parque Lineal.

The Hato Rey station has a projected daily ridership of 11,711 passengers, and is served by several nearby bus stops. The station includes some 156 square meters of space allocated for concessions.

The Hato Rey station is enhanced by the Acuaexpreso terminal is just north of the station’s entrance, and the government has announced its intentions to reopen it and resume water ferry service to Old San Juan in the near future.

"Dredging of the Martin Peña Channel is slated for this fiscal year. This will connect Hato Rey and Carolina through the San Jose Lagoon. Extending the Acquaexpreso to the new Convention Center in Isla Grande is also a possibility," commented Izquierdo.

Only one parcel of 17,222 square meters (4.3 acres) has been identified by the HTA for joint development in the Hato Rey station. This parcel could be divided into two parcels, at HTA’s discretion, during the RFP stage.

The HTA envisions a residential transit-oriented joint development for this parcel, which shares the view with the Martin Peña Channel.

"The project’s design must be compatible with the existing residential developments to the north and west of the parcel. The joint development program for the Hato Rey station must provide pedestrian attractions that connect the parcel with the Acuaexpreso terminal and with the station’s north entrance," Novoa indicated.

Sagrado Corazon Station

The last station of Urban Train’s Phase 1 is located on Santurce’s south entrance, between Ponce de Leon and Fernandez Juncos avenues. Sagrado Corazon University is within walking distance to the station.

The Sagrado Corazon station has a projected daily ridership of 13,855, the second largest daily volume of Phase 1. It has been designed as an active inter-modal and pedestrian station with feeder service from several public transportation routes.

"The station has 1,470 square meters of retail concession space. An extensive road, sidewalk, and public area improvement program has been designed to improve the station’s environment to help it connect to its surroundings," said Izquierdo.

The HTA has identified two parcels at the Sagrado Corazon station for joint transit-oriented development.

The 11,150 square meter (2.8 acres) Parcel A is located towards the station’s east, between the main plaza and Ponce de Leon Ave.

Izquierdo explained that this site was previously scheduled to house the proposed new facilities of the Department of Transportation & Public Works (DTOP by its Spanish acronym). Through a site consultation process, the site received the approval for a 400,000 square foot building (including its preliminary design).

"The HTA wants to make this parcel available for a project substantially similar to that of DTOP’s proposed facilities, to serve preferably as the new home of another government agency capable of committing to a long-term lease," said Izquierdo.

The building’s main purpose should be focused to office use, reaching up to 20 stories high. Street level sections of the building would be allocated for retail and public service use such as a day care center or high-volume government office, noted Izquierdo.

Parking at the site will be limited to one underground floor. The provision of up to 600 additional parking spaces will be available on Parcel B or in another HTA-owned parcel in the area next to the station, Novoa added.

Located west of the station, Parcel B is between the station’s entrance and the PR-1 on-ramp. It is 18,400 square meters (4.7 acres). This site could be used to provide up to 600 parking spaces that could support the proposed development of Parcel B. Novoa explained that this could be achieved by reserving a part of Parcel B for that purpose, or by requiring, under terms to be negotiated, that these parking spaces be incorporated into the development of Parcel B.

In a cooperative agreement with the HTA, the Puerto Rico Housing Authority could consider–as part of Santurce’s redevelopment program–making housing development incentives available for this site.

"On Parcel B, the HTA expects a joint development program for residential use, with one or more multi-story residential elements, including a tower in line with the Borinquen Ave. extension," said Novoa.

Part of the street level space in front of the station’s plaza should include a considerable amount of retail space, namely for restaurants or entertainment.

The HTA expects to select the final joint development projects for the six stations involved in this first phase by November 2002. The period to submit Request for Qualifications to bid (RFQ) ended July 1. The Bids Qualifications Board will review the 18 different teams that submitted RFQs to determine which are qualified to submit RFPs. Construction of some of these joint development programs could begin in 2003 and continue throughout 2004.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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