Depot decision

Taking ownership of the local Amtrak depot without a source of funds to renovate it is too great a risk for Lawrence.

February 9, 2011


Lawrence Amtrak passengers deserve better than what they are getting today: a 1950s-era depot at Seventh and New Jersey streets that comes with a leaky roof, outdated bathrooms and sparse accommodations.

It is a poor welcome sign to our community.

If deciding that Amtrak passengers and Lawrence’s image deserved better was the only decision facing the Lawrence City Commission, this issue would be easy.

In the coming weeks and months, Lawrence city commissioners likely will be lobbied by well-intentioned citizens to take over ownership of the depot and begin a restoration project. The project involves a significant leap of faith on the community’s part. It is too large a leap to take in these economic times.

The first phase of renovations is estimated to cost $600,000. The city has been seeking grant money for the project — without much success. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway is open to transferring ownership of the depot to the city. This is not surprising since the railroad has shown little interest in maintaining the building.

But the city, rightly so, has been reluctant to take over ownership without knowing how it would pay for the initial $600,000 in repairs. Simply taking over ownership and waiting until money can be raised is not a feasible option since many of the repairs are required to bring the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The railroad may be able to get away with not meeting ADA standards. The city of Lawrence will not.

Several community members now are set to argue that the reason the city has not received grant money for this project is because the city doesn’t own the building. That probably is a significant factor. These community members say if the city were to take over ownership, it would get the needed grant money for the restoration.

That may be true, but it’s certainly not guaranteed. The city should not make a $600,000 gamble in today’s financial environment.

A better course would be for community members to start their own private fundraising campaign, with the hope that the depot still will be available for ownership transfer when their fundraising is complete. That seems like a more reasonable risk to take.

Or, perhaps, the city ought to shift its approach to the railroad. It might be time to point to several of the city’s property maintenance codes that apply to buildings that are open to the public. A letter from the mayor to the federal officials that oversee ADA compliance issues also might be warranted.

None of these options likely will appeal to the depot’s fans. Instead, they will continue to push for the city to take a large leap of faith.

We applaud those citizens for their commitment, but commissioners’ responsibility to Lawrence taxpayers should make them think twice before gambling on future funding for this project.


Beelzebub 7 years, 2 months ago

Okay...so I guess if it's a project that we like, say an old Carnegie Library or vacant Post Office building, then that structure is labeled "historic" and worth spending a few million on. If its a project that we don't like, then it's labeled "1950s era...with a leaky roof, outdated bathrooms and sparse accommodations." $600,000 is a lot of taxpayer's money for a project that we don't like, but a few million for a project that we do like is okay. Perhaps the BNSF will demolish the building, and then the city can give the project of building something new to one of it's favorite developers.

ivalueamerica 7 years, 2 months ago

so the LJ world first admits that it needs a spruced up place as a Lawrence showfront, that it will help the image of the city...but does not think the City should take any part of doing that...which is it..is it a source of city enhancement that will increase tourism...therefore in the best interest of the city or is it the responsibility of the public to do this for the city?

Why bother, I have never read a logical LJWord editorial yet, and I have been reading them for 45 years.

Peacemaker452 7 years, 2 months ago

The depot restoration seems like a perfect test for the concerned citizens of Lawrence to put up or shut up. BNSF has obviously decided it is not financially sound to put money into the building so if the restoration is worthwhile, a non-governmental organization should raise the funds and manage the project.

I am a little surprised that a liberal town like Lawrence even cares about getting business from such a large “corporate welfare” recipient like Amtrak. Politics and money make for strange bedfellows.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 2 months ago

Perhaps the city should exercise eminent domain, since the railroad has shown no intention of maintaining their own property, or cooperating with the city to allow them to step in.

svenway_park 7 years, 2 months ago

So, instead of receiving a building for free, you actually would want the City to spent a couple of hundred thousand additional dollars first to purchase the building (which is what is required under eminent domain)?

How does that make any sense?

A: it doesn't

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 2 months ago

It wasn't an entirely serious proposal, but the fact is that the railroad isn't really cooperating in this situation. They're merely looking to shed themselves of any responsibility for maintaining the building, and they aren't willing make it easier for the city to do the renovations and maintenance, either.

And the offer of ownership of the building is a bit hollow, since they aren't offering to transfer ownership of the property it sits on.

Beelzebub 7 years, 2 months ago

Message from Lawrence developers to Editor: Listen Tubby...just because you made a pile of cash on that Knology deal doesn't make you one of us. And when is this god%@#n depot s*%t going to go away?! We've got plans for that whole area. Yeah, sure, we'll have you up to the lake this summer...just remember who really runs this city.

sammie914 7 years, 2 months ago

The depot was a "train wreck" when I rode Amtrak in the early 90s. I am surprised to learn that the building is still standing!!! A bulldozer would be a good solution and then a "temporary" building could be placed there. They use portables for classrooms for YEARS, so why not one for a train station??? Certainly would not cost $600K!!!

mr_right_wing 7 years, 2 months ago

Why not just do the same thing we did with the library and empty buses?

Steal another few cents out of everyone's pockets. As so many pointed out before each vote...It's only a few cents!

We're so miserably under-taxed here.

Mark Jakubauskas 7 years, 2 months ago

How much would it cost to build a new depot ? $600,000 ? Is the building REALLY worth sinking that much into it ? Would $600K buy a new depot that actually has some esthetic and architectural appeal, rather than a 1950's architectural disaster that looks like it was designed by a 5-year-old ? How many square feet are in that depot, and how much per square foot does the $600K come out to ?
Bulldoze that glorified 50's Port-a-John and be done with it. Decaying examples of bad architecture aren't worth saving.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 2 months ago

Demolition of the existing building, and construction of anything remotely comparable would cost way more than $600,000.

I'm not a great fan of that period of architecture, but it's still part of architectural history, and as such, deserves to be preserved, especially considering that it can't be replaced without greatly increasing the cost.

And get over yourself on the architectural snobbery. It may not be your cup of tea, or mine, but it's hardly a "disaster." I think it's kind of quaint, as a matter of fact.

Nathan Anderson 7 years, 2 months ago

Yes, a craptastic faux stone monstrosity would be quite an improvement. /sarcasm

The existing building would look fine w/ some landscaping and restoration.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 2 months ago

"i have decided to leave the forum. goodbye. i am signing out. SVEN January 29, 2011"

As we said earlier - I tried the forum to post when appropriate. It lasted about 6 hours and then the wingnuts - Jerry Springer show crowd took over and took it up to 290+ posts. GOOD BYE It is more like the Jerry Springer show than anything rational, in part due to the moderator's policy interpretations. we ARE NOT posting again - sorry. February 8, 2011

BruceWayne 7 years, 2 months ago

What does The new restroom & concession building at Lawrence High School have to do with anything. So looking forward to breakfast Saturday morning.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 2 months ago

He was replying to the post by Mark_Jakubauskas directly above.

BruceWayne 7 years, 2 months ago

I saw it as a chance for him to AGAIN bring up Svenway Park. you can't win with Sven.

Nathan Anderson 7 years, 2 months ago

For those commissioners wanting to bring "new" dollars, to Lawrence, the depot does just that. It doesn't just serve Lawrence, but the surrounding community as well. The editorial used a lot of words to say purchase of the building isn't worth the financial liability, but didn't say a lick about why. Isn't that a central question here? The train serves KU students, Haskell students, the elderly, handicapped, Boy Scouts, summer vacationers, travelers avoiding roads when we're ass deep in snow, etc. Seems like a logical place to allocate money imo.

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