Editorial: Santa Fe deal a win for city

New agreement that turns over train depot to Lawrence provides a lot more flexibility.

The Lawrence City Commission made the right call Tuesday in voting to accept ownership of the Santa Fe Station.

Now, the city just needs to figure out how best to use the site.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway will donate to the city both the station and the land it sits on near the intersection of Seventh and New Jersey streets. The station is a one-story, mid-century modern structure built in 1956.

The new agreement eliminates provisions that 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. That gives the city a lot more flexibility on what it can do with the property, said Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard.

Tuesday’s vote is the culmination of a decade-long process for the city. In 2008, a local preservation group, Depot Redux, pushed for the city to take over and restore the station building, which has undergone minimal updates and changes over the years.

In 2013, the city received a $1.2 million state transportation grant to renovate and restore the building. Burlington Northern’s decision to donate the property allows the restoration project to move forward. Previous plans for the depot have included a new roof, heating and cooling systems, electrical work, masonry repairs, landscaping and repairs to the parking lot and sidewalks.

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

The question is what should those uses be?

One idea is to use the Santa Fe Station as a transit hub for the city’s bus service. The city has been looking for a hub for nearly five years and the station was considered as a site before residents in the neighborhood complained. Perhaps instead of serving as the sole transit hub for the city, the station could serve as a mini-hub with minihub sites in other parts of the city. The renovated station also could be used for office space, a museum or other public venue.

The Santa Fe Station is in an attractive location, serving as a northern boundary of sorts for Lawrence’s growing Warehouse Arts District. It’s good that the city can finally move forward with restoration of the building and identifying how it can be an asset for the city in the years to come.