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Amtrak Moves To Seize Union Station Using Eminent Domain

Amtrak has filed an eminent domain case against the company that controls the large retail portion of Washington Union Station, claiming it must take control of the full facility to complete concourse improvements.

Washington Union Station

Union Station Investco LLC, an entity controlled by New York real estate firm Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., subleases 425K SF of the station, essentially all of the facility minus train infrastructure and a parking garage. In its complaint in District of Columbia District Court Thursday, Amtrak argued that its master plan to expand and modernize the station for its growing passenger volume, developed with federal partners, cannot be completed if Ashkenazy is involved.

Amtrak offered Union Station Investco $250M to buy the station earlier this month, The Washington Post reported, but Ashkenazy didn't respond within the railroad company's requested deadline. Amtrak has placed that money in control of the District Court as part of the eminent domain proceeding, the Post reports.

Ashkenazy didn't respond to Bisnow's request for comment.

In a statement, Amtrak said it would work with partners like the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration and local and regional commuter authorities to achieve its vision for the station.

"This is an important step that will allow Amtrak to directly invest in [Washington Union Station] in a more efficient and effective manner, make improvements with the most benefit for intercity and public transit customers, including enhancement to passenger flow, ticketing and waiting areas, and critical safety projects," a spokesperson said.

Union Station, at 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE, serves more than 5 million passengers annually, according to Amtrak, making it the second-busiest train station in the U.S. But the station's retail component has been struggling for years, and it was dealt a severe blow by pandemic restrictions on travel. 

Amtrak claims it has spent years attempting to begin critical repairs on the station, improving ticketing counters, waiting areas and boarding procedures, but it said it has been stymied by Ashkenazy. 

In its filing, Amtrak claimed its ability to schedule and complete improvements laid out in the 2017 master plan for the station necessitated control of the lease. The plan, which calls for tripling passenger capacity and doubling train capacity over the next 20 years, recommends extending the existing passenger concourse and constructing two additional concourses, among several other improvements.

Amtrak also claimed control of the station was necessary to complete repairs of train infrastructure laid out in its Subbasement Program, which would replace “structurally deficient beams, girders and columns with a new structural support system," according to a project page.

In its filing, Amtrak also said it had been negotiating with Union Station Investco since 2018 to complete the repairs, but the private entity has repeatedly rebuffed Amtrak's plans to shift services to areas of the station currently controlled by the sublease holder.

Ashkenazy signed its Union Station sublease in 2007 with the Union Station Redevelopment Corp., an entity created by an act of Congress in the 1980s. Since then, Ashkenazy has embarked on multimillion-dollar improvements and added food options and retail like an H&M store, but retail's challenges have driven it into financial turmoil.

Ashkenazy has fought off two attempts to foreclose on its Union Station property, the most recent of which in January was averted thanks to an investment from South Korea's Kookmin Bank, which is named in the eminent domain case.