Lawrence City Commission to consider takeover and restoration of Santa Fe depot

The Santa Fe depot in East Lawrence is shown in this file photo from 2013.

After years of negotiations and planning, the City of Lawrence is only one vote away from taking ownership of the Santa Fe train depot in East Lawrence.

At their meeting Tuesday, city commissioners will vote whether to approve a contract to take ownership of the depot from the railway. City officials say the acquisition will clear the way for the city to begin a $1.5 million restoration of the mid-century station, similar to one done at Union Pacific Depot in North Lawrence.

“It really does position us, much like the other depot, in order for us to be able to fix it up, make sure that it’s preserved for the future and available to continue to serve Amtrak and also the community however we define that in the future,” said Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard.

The building itself has had limited upkeep in recent years, and taking control of the station will allow the city to use a $1.2 million state transportation grant it won in 2013 to restore the building. Stoddard said the city would also be able to add the building to the register of historic places.

Should the project go forward, it would be the culmination of an effort begun in 2008 by a local preservation group, Depot Redux, which prompted the city to restore the station.

Unlike the Union Pacific Depot, the Santa Fe depot is an active railway stop. Amtrak runs two daily trains through the station, a one-story 1950s era brick building at Seventh and New Jersey streets. The Southwest Chief route runs between Chicago and Los Angeles and makes daily stops in Lawrence at 11:52 p.m. and 5:47 a.m.

As with the Union Pacific Depot, the city will be able to repurpose use of the building. However, with the Santa Fe depot, the building would still have to accommodate travelers.

“Because it is an active station, the lobby area will have to stay a lobby area so that it can serve Amtrak,” Stoddard said. “But there are opportunities, perhaps for public meeting space, that kind of thing, that wouldn’t be disruptive to the Amtrak use that will be able to be contemplated on down the road.”

Stoddard said the fact that the station is still in use also complicated negotiations, which require the city to have lease agreements with the railway and Amtrak.

The building is currently owned by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, which will transfer ownership of the building to the city at no cost and maintain ownership of the land the building sits on. As part of the deal, the railway will lease the land to the city for a nominal cost and the city will lease part of the building to Amtrak.

Amtrak will provide funding for modifications to bring the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Stoddard estimates the city’s share of the restoration to be about $160,000, less any funds from the sale of historic tax credits. She said costs will be finalized once the project is bid, which must occur by June.

If the City Commission approves the deal, the city will take over the ownership of the building following a closing with BNSF and Amtrak, Stoddard said. She said the restoration of the Santa Fe depot would start in late summer or early fall, and be completed sometime in 2018.