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Archive for Monday, July 16, 2012

Depot dilemma

Perhaps there is a reasonable public use for the East Lawrence Amtrak depot, but the city can’t afford to take over the building until that use has been identified.

July 16, 2012

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A group of dedicated local residents has done a stellar job of sprucing up the Burlington Northern Santa Fe depot in east Lawrence and making the case for preserving the 1950s-era structure. However, from a practical standpoint, their efforts hit a major stumbling block last week when city staff and commissioners decided it would be impractical to turn the depot into a hub for the city’s bus system.

Using the depot as a transit hub would have given the city a valid reason for taking ownership of the building, the first step in seeking outside funds to improve the building. For a number of reasons, the transit hub turned out to be unworkable. Transit officials said the site wasn’t really big enough to handle the city’s large buses, and BNSF wasn’t willing to give up enough office space in the depot to accommodate the city’s transit offices.

So, it’s back to the drawing board for members of the local preservation group, Depot Redux. Carey Maynard-Moody, the leader of that group, urged the city to “get creative and smart” and not give up on efforts to preserve the building.

It’s fine for city officials to be creative in their efforts on the depot’s behalf, but, as noted, they also need to be smart. The city really can’t afford to take over the building unless it can identify some productive use for it. The only purpose the depot currently serves is as a lobby and waiting area for passengers getting on and off Amtrak’s Southwest Chief early in the morning and late at night. Unless the city finds a use that justifies expanded hours and staffing for the building, it’s hard to see how it can justify taking it over. One report estimates the building needs about $400,000 in renovations. Even if there is a possibility of attracting grant money for some of that cost, the city can’t afford to take on that responsibility — as well as long-term maintenance duties — for a structure for which it really doesn’t have a use.

It’s easy to see why the BNSF would be willing to basically donate the depot if the city would accept responsibility for the building while allowing the railroad to continue to use it for its own operations, but that isn’t a great deal for the city. We hope the city and Depot Redux will continue to seek a way to preserve and use this notable structure, but until they do, the city can’t afford to accept ownership of the building.

Comments

Les Blevins 2 years, 5 months ago

If Maynard-Moody will call me or drop by with a one or two of her associates I will explain my proposal for an ongoing use for the facility that could save the city enough money to pay the entire $400,000 cost of renovations in as little as 2 years. My number is 785-842-1943.

50YearResident 2 years, 5 months ago

Give it up Les! Leave it as is and it will still be available when the economy is better. No independant company or individual is stupid enough to buy it and maintain the property for the railroad to use into infinity, except the city of Lawrence. In the meantime the city will be collecting taxes on the property.

KU_cynic 2 years, 5 months ago

I love (hate) to say "I told you so", but the idea of the city buying the train depot was a dumb one from day one. That it took so long for the city minions to acknowledge that having a bus depot at the train depot didn't make sense is the only real news here. Sorry to have to explain reality to CM-M and her fellow travelers, but the nostalgic dream of intercity rail in Kansas is just that, a costly dream.

And, if Les Blevins or anybody else has some "terrific" idea involving the train depot, then let them put their money where their mouth is rather than asking for government bureaucrats to place losing bets with tax payers' money.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 5 months ago

It doesn't make sense as an intracity bus depot, but it is, and for the foreseeable future will be, an intercity train station.

There are plenty of additional potential uses, but until BNSF lets loose its grip on a building it really doesn't want all that bad, anyway, the status quo will remain.

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