Lawrence City Commission approves deal to take control of Santa Fe Station

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

At its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously to accept an updated deal that will give the city total control of and responsibility for the Santa Fe Station.

Under the new agreement, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway will donate both the station and the land it sits on to the city. The new agreement also eliminates provisions that would have required the city to lease the station back to the railway on short notice and allowed the railway to repurchase the building in the future.

“I think that this really opens up a lot of possibilities for the city with regard to the land (and) doing things with the building that would have been very difficult for us to do had we had to lease it back to them with very short lead times,” Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard said. “Without those provisions, I think we have a lot more flexibility in the future.”

The agreement has been about 10 years in the making. It will culminate an effort begun in 2008 by a local preservation group, Depot Redux, which prompted the city to restore the station. The 1950s-era building at Seventh and New Jersey streets has had minimal upkeep over the years, and the transfer allows the city to use a $1.2 million state transportation grant it won in 2013 to restore the building. The city’s contribution toward the restoration is expected to be about $160,000.

The commission had already approved the agreement, but upon a final review, the railway decided to give up its stake in the property. Representatives of the railway only said they don’t anticipate needing the space in the future and that they wished to streamline the process.

Commissioner Mike Amyx praised the new agreement, noting that the years-long effort was the result of work by Depot Redux and city staff and has gone in front of multiple commissions as it progressed.

“There’s been a lot of work done by a lot of people,” Amyx said.

The Santa Fe Station is an active railway stop, and Amtrak runs two daily trains through the station at 11:52 p.m. and 5:47 a.m. The agreement requires a lease agreement between the city and Amtrak to use the building during those times, but the building can now serve other uses during the day.

As previously laid out, the deal only involved the donation of the building and required the city to enter into a long-term land lease with the railway for a nominal cost. The now stricken lease-back and repurchase provisions also would have limited the city’s control of the property. Stoddard also noted that having control of the land is particularly important because the city realized that part of its street is actually built on the railway’s property.

Stoddard said if for some reason there is another major change to the agreement, it would come back before the commission for approval. Restoration of the station is expected to begin in the fall.

In other business, the commission:

• Voted to accept the Economic Development Support and Compliance annual report. The report outlines the active incentives agreements, including property tax abatements, industrial revenue bonds and neighborhood revitalization areas. Economic Development Coordinator Britt Crum-Cano said all companies that are receiving incentives are in compliance with their incentives agreements.

• Conducted a general obligation bond and temporary note sale to finance various capital improvement projects totaling about $21 million. All projects were included in the 2017-2021 Capital Improvement Program. Finance Director Bryan Kidney said the city received the second highest bond rating for the sale (Aa1) and that interest rates also came in lower than expected.

• Approved a request from Plastikon Healthcare LLC to waive special assessments relating to the planned expansion of its East Hills Business Park plant. The outstanding special assessments on the lot total $40,648.17.