BART plan would require costly seismic upgradeBy Barry Witt
San Jose's dream of building a grand downtown entry for a future BART line is in serious jeopardy because of new findings that the historic Bank of America building would require a roughly $40 million seismic retrofit to house the station.
City officials and downtown advocates want to use the 1927 building's bank lobby as a San Jose version of Grand Central Station, greeting travelers and giving them a sense that they've arrived in a special place.
But new engineering studies show that the building would need a major retrofit - at a cost estimated between $36 million to $46 million - to house the station because BART's standards require that stations can be functional shortly after a major earthquake.
Michael Burns, general manager of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, which is designing the planned 16.1-mile BART extension from Fremont to Santa Clara, said in a recent letter to the city that VTA will not pick up the additional cost to retrofit the station. "A major investment in a historical renovation effort is outside of our mission," Burns wrote.
Instead, VTA is planning on putting the downtown station entrance in the Western Dental building at the southwest corner of Santa Clara and Second streets. That building holds less promise for an architecturally significant station lobby.
San Jose officials said they have not given up hope of finding a way to pay for the retrofit. They are investigating a plan that would allow the Bank of America building's current or future owners to use federal tax credits available for historic buildings to cover part of the renovation costs.
"We're asking VTA for an additional amount of time where we could keep the Bank of America option alive," said Hans Larsen, the city's deputy transportation director. The issue is set for a decision by VTA's board of directors June 7, when the board is scheduled to adopt a revised environmental impact report on the $4.7 billion BART project. Five of VTA's 12 board members come from the San Jose City Council.
VTA officials say that while they want the VTA board to drop the Bank of America option from further formal review, San Jose could return at a later date and revive the idea if the city comes up with a funding plan.
Construction is not slated to begin on the BART line until 2009, but the entire project remains in doubt because VTA has yet to identify enough money to pay for constructing and operating the line. The agency is considering asking voters to approve an additional sales tax next year, on top of the half-cent measure voters approved in 2000 that was supposed to have covered the cost.
Copyright ©2007 San Jose Mercury News. Published 05/26/2007.