Archive for Thursday, June 13, 2013

Editorial: Depot windfall

A somewhat unexpected federal grant is a major boon to supporters working to renovate the Santa Fe Depot in east Lawrence.

June 13, 2013


The persistence of city officials and members of the local Depot Redux group has paid off.

A $1.5 million federal grant will allow the city to take ownership of the Santa Fe Railway depot in East Lawrence and give the building the major makeover supporters had hoped for. The grant will pay about 80 percent of the project, with the city contributing about $300,000. According to Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard, the money will be sufficient to give the building a new roof and heating and cooling systems and make repairs to masonry, sidewalks and parking areas.

It will be a fresh start for the 1950s-era building that had fallen into serious disrepair before Depot Redux began advocating for the structure. Amtrak has spent about $1.5 million in the last two years to improve the boarding platform that continues to serve rail passengers twice a day when the Southwest Chief makes its regular stops in Lawrence. In recent years, local volunteers also invested considerable sweat equity in cleaning up the depot, planting flowers and making other improvements.

Some hurdles remain. The next step for the city is to complete a deal to take over the ownership of the depot from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, which has indicated it would be willing to donate the building as long as it retained ownership of the land and maintained its offices in the eastern part of the building. There also is a question of who would assume liability for any environmental hazards that are found on the property.

The federal grant is a big windfall for the depot project, but the city needs to be smart as it moves forward on financial arrangements for this project. Even if Amtrak basically donates the building, the fact that it will continue to use the depot for offices and passengers, means that it also should share in the cost of routine maintenance, utilities and other ongoing costs.

It also would be great to see the building serve a meaningful purpose beyond accommodating Amtrak passengers twice a day. Amtrak’s desire to retain office space in the building means the city will control only the lobby, the old ticket window office and another smaller office. The space limitations also limit the potential uses, but city officials say they are open to suggestions, so local residents should put on their thinking caps to see what creative uses they can find. The new Cider Gallery is only a couple of blocks away. Any inspiration there?

The Santa Fe Depot may not inspire a lot of history buffs, but it is a significant building of its period as well as the first structure rail passengers see when they arrive in Lawrence. It will be nice to see it get a long-overdue facelift.


George Lippencott 4 years, 6 months ago

I have never quite understood the significance of the Depot project. Why are we doing this when so much else of what seems higher priority is not being done? I realize this is federal money but did we not just furlough federal employees for lack of money. It would seem to me that providing security at our airports is vastly more important than spending public money on a private business facility that dates back to the fifties.

chootspa 4 years, 6 months ago

The sequester cuts were across the board and arbitrary rather than surgical. It was supposed to be awful, so that everyone would enact a smarter budget instead of letting them happen.

streetman 4 years, 6 months ago

Agree. Why should a financially broke federal government provide a grant for something like this?

chootspa 4 years, 6 months ago

The government isn't actually broke, you know.

streetman 4 years, 6 months ago

It just borrows 40+ % of every dollar that it spends -- everything is fine.

chootspa 4 years, 6 months ago

The deficit is also shrinking, but don't let perspective get in the way of a hyperbolic argument.

conradzt 4 years, 6 months ago

Yes but the debt is still growing. Can seem to pay that down with all of our borrowing. Nice attempt to look at silver lining though.

TalkSense 4 years, 6 months ago

The Santa Fe Station is an East Lawrence landmark and the gateway to the city for the national Amtrak passenger rail system. The facility is in need of a new roof, modern heating and air conditioning units, upgrades to its electrical system, ADA upgrades to entrances and bathrooms, additional parking, and sidewalk improvements. All of that can be accomplished as a result of the KDOT grant and $300,000 in local matching funds. The grant will also restore the historic character of the station, which is regarded as a classic example of mid-century modern architecture. The station is a tremendous asset for Lawrence, and the grant provides resources to make it a showcase the city can be proud of. It's a worthwhile public investment near Downtown that also benefits the often-neglected East Lawrence neighborhood. As the editorial states, a restored station may be the catalyst for other "creative uses" in that part of town. I'm grateful to Depot Redux and Diane Stoddard for moving this project forward.

George Lippencott 4 years, 6 months ago

Why is this a great asset. Since it is privately owned do not maintenance responsibility reside with the owner? Yes, we certainly have a large number of new visitors arriving by train.

Only $300K? Why not spend that on our public safety deficit. In fact why do those so demanding of upgrading this facility not do so through public subscription?

Exactly when did it become my responsibility to tax myself to create "creative uses" for old buildings???

This is a waste of money when we need money for many other higher priorities. From where have these people come who feel the government has a responsibility for everything and that only half the taxpayers should pay for all these wonderful things.

Gimme, Gimme, Gimme!!!

TalkSense 4 years, 6 months ago

For starters, more than 167,000 people rode the Southwest Chief Amtrak route (Chicago to Los Angeles) during the six months ending in March of this year. Lawrence is on that route and the appearance, safety, and ADA accessibility of the Santa Fe Station is important if we wish to retain this service. The KDOT grant would leverage private investment ("creative uses") in East Lawrence. Given the amount of taxpayer dollars devoted to paving asphalt highways used by gas-powered cars in this country, an investment in maintaining an environmentally friendly alternative to both airplanes and automobiles makes good sense.

George_Braziller 4 years, 6 months ago

I think you're seeing the building as it is, rather than the potential of what it could be.

This is the depot previously on the site. Image what an asset it would have been to the neighborhood and downtown if some money had been allocated to repairs after the floods before the levies were built.

Mark Jakubauskas 4 years, 6 months ago

Agree. The previous depot would have been beautiful. The current depot ? Dull, lifeless, stark, lazy architecture. More like typical mid-century architectural UGLY, with no intrinsic beauty. All the appeal of a 1950s gas station designed by an architect with zero sense of beauty, proportion, or sense of place. For $3 million (150,000 in the past from Amtrak and the current $150K from the feds), perhaps the old one should have been bulldozed and something nicer put in its place. Something classy, something that evokes Lawrence and Kansas, not some 50s minimalist crap that looks like it was designed in 15 minutes by a third-grader.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 6 months ago

I don't find the current building nearly as interesting as the original building, but that one was destroyed by a flood, and it'd cost way more the $3 million to reproduce it. But I also don't think that any building designed using current design standards would be any more attractive than the existing building-- certainly not for amount of money that's available.

Oh well, there's no accounting for taste. Not even yours (or mine.)

jafs 4 years, 6 months ago

Why does it cost so much to renovate a small depot?

$3 million sounds excessive to me.

George_Braziller 4 years, 6 months ago

Tastes in style change. All of the grand Queen Anne Victorian houses in the 1700 block of Mass were demolished for Babcock Place, Dillons, three gas stations, and a Dairy Queen. Those houses were considered "ugly" and at the time not considered worth saving as well.

George_Braziller 4 years, 6 months ago

There's one left in the block. Gives you an idea of what used to be there.

Keith 4 years, 6 months ago

Waa, grant money appeared and we're going to cry about it. If you think there was a more meaningful project, why didn't you get out from behind your keyboard and build a constituency for it, like the Depot Redux people did?

bevy 4 years, 6 months ago

Let's see- the Santa Fe depot in Topeka has been re-done (I think) and now we are re-doing the Lawrence one. Maybe they can rebuild the stop in Lecompton and then start running some passenger trains between Topeka and Lawrence, so I can stop driving and start reading my way to work!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 6 months ago

It's a public building used for public purposes. Why shouldn't it be paid for with public funds?

George Lippencott 4 years, 6 months ago

It is a private building owned by the railroad. The city accepting ownership is a condition of the grant. The railroad has set its terms - we own the building but not the land and they retain part of the building for their purposes (probably free).

bevy 4 years, 6 months ago

Never said I wanted any subsidies, so please don't ASSume. You know what happens when you do that. I simply stated that a commuter route would solve a lot of problems. Unless the RR was planning to give out free tickets, presumably this would be a profitable enterprise for them, thus justifying the investment.

You know, that whole supply and demand thing?

George Lippencott 4 years, 6 months ago

IK asked - I did not assume.

I have lived in cities with light rail. To pay their needs to be a lot of ridership. I am not sure the volume necessary is available in such a limited market. Would be nice though.

George Lippencott 4 years, 6 months ago

Gimme, Gimme, Gimme

I questioned the priority. I still question the priority. You want to spend $2M to support your vision of a return to rail transportation. In your mind it is cheap because we spend so much on auto's. The comparison is sophomoric.

Your argument is very self serving as what you want does not do much if anything for most of us. There would be plenty of time to invest if there is ever a realistic rail alternative for most of us to use. I don't see that any time soon.

As far as building a constituency exactly what do you have in mind. We gather together a few people with no financial stake in the project and lobby for somebody to give us money. Surprise the bloated federal budget delivers. I guess the "Tea Party" is right. We need many more cuts as there appears to be a super abundance of people who think that what a few hundred people may care about necessitates a two million expenditure. Must be Democrats.

Jayhawker07 4 years, 6 months ago

More government spending. Did I not hear that just to repair the roof on that thing was close to 1 million dollars. I want to bid on that. Is that a closed bid? Who do we contact on that RFP? Ching, Ching, Ching!

funkdog1 4 years, 6 months ago

These same negative arguments were made about the neglected train depot in North Lawrence, too. Now it's an asset to the city. Have a little vision.

George Lippencott 4 years, 6 months ago

So the people who pay little if any federal income tax (source of money) are happy while the people who pay a lot of federal income tax question what we are doing?

Sounds like a microcosm of the argument in DC. I would feel a lot better if all of us paid a uniformly progressive federal income tax.

Keith 4 years, 6 months ago

You got any facts to back up that assertion in your first sentence? I pay federal income tax and as you might guess, I'm happy with the grant. And no, I'm not personally benefiting from it.

funkdog1 4 years, 6 months ago

Me to Keith. I pay federal taxes and I'm thrilled to see a community building with lots of potential being rehabilitated for actual use rather than being left to become a blight on the neighborhood. If you don't spend money on anything then everything goes to pot and that benefits no one.

George Lippencott 4 years, 6 months ago

Do you pay 25% of your income on federal income taxes and 33% total taxes (Based on 100K income). Not ours? Bit steep when the rich pay 17%.

That said, at least you pay something or are you referencing payroll taxes Mr Funk?? And most certainly you may comment. But I question what percentage of those demanding this "investment" actually pay such taxes??

Exception: Professionals at KU and teachers who get pay raises that more than cover tax increases. People on fixed incomes do not.

Where is that recognition of diversity that actually considers the other guys/gals path??

bevy 4 years, 6 months ago

I don't know what planet you've been on, moderate - but state employees haven't had a pay raise in over 5 years. Perhaps professors are paid differently, and teacher pay is negotiated locally with the district, but most folks at KU have been on a fixed income for several years.

funkdog1 4 years, 6 months ago

Honestly, I'm not sure what percentage my spouse and I pay in taxes. We just pay them and we don't bitch about it. Combined, we make a decent income. (You know when we did complain? When we were working minimum wage jobs while in college and the state and the feds were definitely taking 25% of very needed income.) Again, I say to you, do we just let public buildings sit and crumble? What's the cost of cleaning that up? The Carnegie building and the depot in North Lawrence are worth paying to keep. And if you're arguing that the rich should pick up more of the tax burden, I heartily agree.

George Lippencott 4 years, 6 months ago

I am arguing two things

  1. We can not keep increasing taxes on the half of us who pay the federal income tax. If we don't we continue to run a half trillion to a trillion dollar annual deficit. That is ruinous to our children

2 Life requires priorities. My priorities are meeting current obligations before we accept new ones for which we can not pay. However meritorious doing something about the depot may be the federal money for it is borrowed from our children. The county established a fund for historic preservation in our last (20%) property tax increase. Perhaps that money should be used as the local funding source before we incur another historic additional preservation debt (again priorities)

George Lippencott 4 years, 6 months ago

Hi Bevy

I am using ten year averages. You are correct in respect to the last several years. Of course inflation has been near zero (reportedly) over that time. Most federal and state workers, SS recipients and others have also seen little or no salary growth.

KU merit pay has continued although at a lower level. If you get a 4% increase on $100K (average KU professional salary) that adds 4K. Paying a 4% local tax increase on a $400K home takes about 8% of that increase.

Personal experience is that we were very insensitive to property tax increases (or even federal income tax increases) if our annual salary increases exceeded them by at least half or more. Now that we are on a government pension we (like you) are not keeping pace.

So for people who have a significant income increase or for those essentially paying no federal taxes the pain of taxes is mitigated. IMHO that makes them more receptive to spending money on public “investments”

If your priority is the depot so be it and that makes you an exception to my argument (assuming you understand that we cannot continue to run between 500 billion and a trillion dollar deficit annually without bankrupting our children). That is not my priority as long as we are furloughing government employees, (in Illinois) not paying state medical insurance bills and mortgaging our children’s futures.

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