Looking to honor South Station’s historic architecture, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation announced Friday they are exploring new design concepts to expand the station, including better connections to surrounding neighborhoods, technology for passenger information and waiting areas.
The station is also looking into designs for a civic space, which will include shopping, restaurants and other amenities.
“We fully expect to be increasing demand for rail service,” said Michael Verseckes, spokesman for MassDOT. “That is more efficient because right now the issue is with only 13 tracks and many trains are coming into South Station on a daily basis, which keeps creating a bottleneck of trains back and forth, so space is the key to more efficient railroad operations.”
Verseckes said the City of Boston, Amtrak, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and MassDOT are coming together to develop a set of criteria to move forward in designs that work for South Station.
Tavern in the Square is also expanding, and plans to add a location in the station. Other stores such as, CVS, Starbucks and Barbara’s Bookstore intend to open in the station.
“This restaurant will be a smaller version of our other restaurants at approximately 800 square feet, with a bar and tables seating about 40 people,” said Stephen DeSousa, vice president of operations for Tavern, in an email. “We will have a limited menu featuring some of our more popular food items as well as 32 beers on tap.”
DeSousa said construction of the restaurant and bar is expected to start in November.
“We chose this location because of the thousands of people who pass through South Station every day,” he said. “There is no place for them to sit and have a beer and watch some sports while waiting for their train home.”
Don Barliant, president of Barbara’s Bookstore, said the Illinois-based store, which closed its South Station store in April, is planning to reopen by the end of 2013.
“The store was closed because the station decided that there was a more, for their purposes, economically favorable use that would be better than the bookstore, and our lease was at an end, after 20 years,” he said.
Barliant said many residents have sent messages to Barbara’s and the MBTA to have the store return.
The bookstore was originally scheduled to open by mid-November, but its construction should finish ahead of schedule, she said.
“The store, we hope, will open in time for the holiday season,” he said. “However, some time in the next couple of weeks, we are actually going to have a book car at the Station until the permanent space is built.”
Further changes in South Station include a two-story CVS that will have its own elevator and escalator, in addition to those the station already uses, which is scheduled to open in March 2014.
Several residents said overcrowding and the lack of space is a major issue at South Station, but adding shopping and restaurants will not attract more residents to go to the station.
Nicky Biederman, 28, resident of Brighton, said she wants to see the outside of the building remain the same, but that overcrowding must be addressed.
“When I’m running to get to a bus or a train, there’s always way too many people for me to get by, and it’s always frustrating,” she said. “I like the idea that it’s historic, but there is nothing inside that reads that, so I feel that if they don’t change the outside charm of it, the changes would be fine.”
Aaron Slover, 20, resident of Boston, said South Station should expand in order to make traveling easier for Boston residents.
“When I do go there, it is crowded,” he said. “I don’t think they necessarily need to change it because I think it is architecturally pleasing, but Boston is a growing city and they need that capacity … so the history aspect isn’t that persuasive to me. If it’s more convenient [to expand South Station], then that is more important.”
Christian Hennessey, 20, resident of Boston, said with the added restaurants and amenities, it will not encourage more people to go to the station.
“I know that they are putting in a Tavern in the Square … but I don’t know how well that’s going to do, because the stuff out here is mostly fast food places for people on the go,” he said. “It’s not much of a hangout. There are not a lot of people who live in the area that I think would go out to eat or shopping there. I don’t think it’s going to be successful.”