Now arriving at the station: A new plan for the city to take ownership of the Santa Fe Depot in east Lawrence.
Mayor Aron Cromwell hopes to get feedback from fellow commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting about using the depot at Seventh and New Jersey streets as a transfer station for the city’s transit system. The building already is used as a depot for the two Amtrak trains that run through the city daily.
“This is a building whose primary function is waiting,” Cromwell said. “This would allow us to use it that way at least twice.”
The city has been seeking a location for a transit hub for several years. Currently the main transfer point in the city is near Ninth and New Hampshire. The city provides small glass booths that allow people to avoid some of the weather.
“We definitely need something more than what we have right now,” said Bob Nugent, the city’s public transit administrator. “It would be nice to have some more amenities.”
But whether the 1950s-era Santa Fe Depot building will be the right solution will take more study — and discussion — Cromwell said.
“We’re going to want to hear what the neighborhood will say about this,” Cromwell said. “There will be an impact there. Some of it may be positive. Some of it may be negative.”
Nugent said his office has done a cursory review of the location, and he said he hasn’t found any glaring reasons why the location won’t work. But he said a more-detailed space analysis will need to be done, especially concerning how the site could accommodate up to seven buses at once. He said there are several times each day that the downtown transfer point must accommodate that many buses.
Nugent said it seems unlikely that the depot parking lot could handle all the buses at once, meaning an on-street solution might have to be explored.
“Those are the type of issues that we’ll have to examine,” Nugent said.
There also would be some rerouting of buses required, but Nugent said there still would be plenty of stops in downtown Lawrence itself, which would eliminate much of the need for people to walk from downtown to the depot.
Cromwell said he wants to fully examine the idea of using the depot as a transit hub before deciding whether the city should take over ownership of the building. Burlington Northern Santa Fe has offered to transfer ownership of the building to the city at no cost, but commissioners have been reluctant to take the building because it needs significant repairs.
Amtrak officials have offered to pay about $140,000 to complete required ADA upgrades at the building. But a city-hired architect has estimated that there are still about $400,000 worth of high-priority repairs — such as a new roof and heating and cooling units — that need to be made at the building. The same report also identified about $1 million worth of broader improvements that should be considered for the site in the future.
The city has applied for several grants to improve the station, but the fact the city doesn’t own the building has made it difficult to win grant funding. If the depot becomes a transit facility, it would be eligible to apply for Federal Transit Authority grants.
“I think this probably is going to be one of the best ways to get this building into the city inventory,” Cromwell said.
A citizen’s group — Depot Redux — has been lobbying hard for the city to take over the depot because it’s a good example of 1950s architecture. The group also previously has advocated that the depot play a more central role in the city’s transportation needs. That idea hasn’t gotten much traction at City Hall, but that may be changing.
Cromwell said that if the city pursues the idea of transit hub, for example, he could envision the depot also serving as a station for Greyhound and other transportation options.
“I know there are things we can do to make it easier for people to get around town,” Cromwell said.
Although city commissioners are expected to discuss the depot at their weekly meeting, Cromwell said it will take several more weeks before the city would be in a position to make a decision on moving forward with the depot project. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.