Eleanor Holmes Norton is not especially happy with the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, the nonprofit entity created by Congress to oversee the station (and which, in turn, contracts with private entities to operate the station). It’s not only the overreacting to photography. Norton feels USRC hasn’t taken advantage of opportunities to make Union Station more of an intermodal center, as Congress has asked.
For example, according to the Congresswoman, USRC cites “business relationships” as the reason it can’t accommodate intercity discount buses like Megabus in the garage, “forcing them to load an unload on already crowded streets.” Norton laid the blame on station officials. “Union Station could be an intermodal center right now,” she said, “if only those in charge had the vision to do so.”
Back to the photography issue. Photographer Erin McCann testified that she continues to get contradictory information from Amtrak employees, security guards, and Union Station management about the legality of taking photos or what the policy is. Just last Friday, An Amtrak employee told McCann that the building was private property and refused to give her name.
New York’s Grand Central Terminal has its policy (allowing and encouraging photography) posted prominently on the Web. Meanwhile, Union Station’s posted rules state that their guards can prohibit photography at any time for any reason; Norton argues the courts would take a different view, and calls this an “outrageously pathetic non-policy.”
Below, more notes live from the hearing.
Next up is David Ball, President of USRC. He argues that there isn’t room in the garage to accommodate private parking, intercity buses, and tour buses, all of whom would like to use the parking area. Bryan Chambers of Jones Lang LaSalle, which operates the retail areas, gives a long litany of ways Union Station cooperates with the city, participates in local merchant’s associations, etc.
Daniel Levy of Ashkenazy Acquisition, which leases the building and subleases to Jones Lang LaSalle and other merchants, talks a little bit about the future plans for the station, including the new Amtrak concourse, expanded auto area for buses, and Columbus Circle reconfiguration. He also complains about a proposed tax (Possessed Reinterest Tax? Assessed Interest Tax?) from the District of Columbia that would “undo decades of revitalization” and create a “downward spiral.”
Norton asks the three Union Station reps to respond to the photo issue. Ball: Surprised there isn’t a standard policy and thinks it should be a very simple matter to devise one. There was some confusion after 9/11 but they should be able to work it out. Levy: Never been formally presented to him. His legal opinion is that the federal government conveyed a leasehold interest to USRC, which conveyed it to Ashkenazy. Norton is absolutely incredulous.
Chambers: Has been taking steps to fix the problem and has redrafted the standard to make it more clear that photography is permitted. Norton goes back to Levy, since he is the only lawyer, and argues that Levy or another lawyer should be involved with drafting the new policy. She also admonishes Levy to familiarize himself with “an unbroken line of court cases” in favor of photographer’s rights on public property even when that property is leased to private entities.
Some discussion about the redevelopment follows. Management is considering replacing the
now-closed possibly to-be-closed movie theater with a walkway to connect to the platforms; losing some retail rental revenue would be offset by greater foot traffic in the food court area.
Transportation ranking member John Mica (R-FL) is also attending the hearing. He insists that the future new Amtrak concourse should connect to the future bus concourse, and suggests that the bike station should fit in better with the building’s architecture. He also complains about panhandling, having been panhandled four times while eating lunch waiting for a train. Mica jokes that the security guards seem too preoccupied with photographers to address panhandling. The now more apparently stupid Mr. Levy suggests perhaps if it’s considered public property for photographers, then it’s public for panhandlers too. Norton reminds them that the law isn’t that simplistic.
Chambers jumps in, again with a voice of reason to Levy’s unhinged behavior, admitting there’s a problem and arguing that they lack arresting power. Mica suggests they hire Officer Thompson who’s about to retire from the Capitol Hill Club nearby. At this point, we might be veering into absurd levels of Congressional micromanagement.
Norton, coming back to photography, points out that these guards who can’t solve panhandling because they can’t make arrests seem very willing to threaten photographers with arrest. She asks them to produce, within 30 days, a plan for retraining every security guard.
Next they argue about something concerning the movie theater lease, which isn’t especially relevant to me other than the entertainment value of Levy continuing to piss off Congresswoman Norton every time he opens his mouth. It’s good to see Norton leaning on these guys, especially for the terrible and illegal photography policy.
Will her browbeating solve the problem? Will they really send her a plan for retraining security guards? Will they really retrain them, and will guards stop harassing photographers? We’ll be watching.