Refurbished Santa Fe depot could soon be available for events; city to seek other uses for historic building
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
Members of the public could soon be able to host meetings and celebrations at the historic Santa Fe depot, and the city is seeking other ways to use the newly rehabilitated train station.
During a work session Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission discussed several options for secondary uses of the depot, located at Seventh and New Jersey streets. Commissioners said they were interested in allowing people to rent the building as an event space, and they also ordered city staff to put out a call for proposals for other, more permanent ways to use the space.
Specifically, city staff will be looking for potential public-private partnerships that are complementary to the depot’s ongoing use as a railway station.
Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard told commissioners there could be long-term commercial uses, such as a coffee shop, bicycle repair shop or other business or service, that could be compatible with the need to maintain the lobby for passengers. She said the space could be rented out for events in the meantime.
“We think that — at least in the short term — that the rental opportunities would be very viable, particularly with regard to the lobby space,” Stoddard said. “We think we can go ahead and do that immediately, but also, simultaneously, we would encourage the commission to allow us to put out a (request for interest) to see what responses we get.”
Mayor Stuart Boley said he wanted the city to move forward with the request, and other commissioners agreed.
Amtrak uses the station for its Southwest Chief route, which stops twice daily in Lawrence, at 11:49 p.m. and 5:09 a.m., but otherwise the building is not used. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway owns the land the station sits on but donated the building to the city with certain conditions.
One provision of the agreement between the railway and the city is a so-called “lease-back” provision that gives the railway the right to lease two of the building’s rooms from the city with only a 10-day notification. Stoddard said that provision would need to be changed or eliminated in order to move forward with most secondary uses for the station, but that the railway has indicated it’s open to changing the provision.
Boley said he would like the city to continue discussions with the railway about changing the lease-back provision, and that he also wants staff and the railway to discuss whether the city could take ownership of the land the building sits on.
The 1950s-era train station is an example of midcentury modern architecture, and the station is now on the National Register of Historic Places. A Kansas Department of Transportation grant, which the city was awarded in 2013, funded 80 percent of the approximately $2 million project to rehabilitate the depot.
Stoddard said that once the city has the responses to the request for interest, staff will review the proposals and see if there is anything that strikes a chord of interest with the commission and the community. In the case of a partnership, the city would continue to own the building but would lease a portion of it out for private use.