Town leaders are looking a new and permanent home for the historic train depot that currently serves as a museum on East Garner Road, but have yet to determine where it would go.
The Town Council on Tuesday asked representatives of the Garner Revitalization Association to form a committee to make a recommendation on the future of the 115-year-old depot, including what possible uses it could have. Mari Howe, the director of the GRA and the town’s downtown development director, said she could put that group together and report back within six to eight months.
Town Manager Rodney Dickerson reviewed drawbacks to the depot’s current location, nestled between East Garner Road and the railroad tracks with limited room for parking.
“A few years ago, we made some improvements to it, put in a ramp and improved the parking, but because of its location near the railroad and Garner Road, it’s really not an ideal location for pedestrians or for visitors,” Dickerson said.
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Town Council member Kathy Behringer pushed for the discussion and for action on the depot. She said the town has delayed the project too many times.
“My concern is that we talk about it, and we talk about it and talk about it, and we go back over there and we repair it, and repair it, and then we let it fall into disrepair again,” Behringer said. “We have the opportunity to move it and utilize it as a museum, as a visitors center – something that will be of benefit to the town.”
Behringer said historical emphasis has changed along Main Street as the corridor has evolved, but that history is still important.
“If we have the opportunity to preserve it, I think it’s incumbent upon us to do that,” she said.
No one objected to protecting the depot, which was moved to Rand Road in 1967 and returned in 1987 to its original and current location. Council members and others who spoke at the meeting were less certain about where it should, or could, be moved again.
Possible locations identified in the 2010 Historic Downtown Garner Plan for the old caboose and depot are no longer feasible, Dickerson said.
Councilman Gra Singleton said the depot should stay in the vicinity of the railroad tracks, “or it loses its significance – it’s just an old building.” But he noted there are few available options for relocating the depot within the downtown corridor.
“Where you put it? I don’t know,” Singleton said. “We’re saving a building that would be nice to save from a history standpoint. I want us to keep it, but what to do with it is a good question. It’s just the location where it is, is not accessible.”
Councilman Buck Kennedy suggested the town research available land near the railroad tracks and keep in mind the site needs to be visible and include parking.
“It would be ideal, perhaps, to tie it to transit, and perhaps where there is already an existing parking lot,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think financing is going to be the issue – I think that will be the easiest item out of the whole deal. We need input from other sources.”
The appropriate sources were sitting in the same room. Howe and fellow GRA board member Jason Waters told the council preserving the depot is in their work plan and looking at future options would be a good project for their group.
“It’s something that we’ve talked about and there’s a lot of different options that are out there, and preserving the history of the depot is something that we’re strongly for,” Waters said.
Howe said the project would help the town achieve accreditation for the Main Street America program. She said the space may prove good for a hybrid use, involving business or special events.
Local historian Kaye Whaley and former town clerk Judy Bass said they wanted to be involved.
Whaley gave some history on the building and repairs made to it over the years.
“It’s a shame to see it not preserved. It was built in 1902,” Whaley told the council. “I would like to see it used as a visitors center. The two downstairs rooms would be great for visitors to come in and pick up literature about businesses, the town – anything else that would be beneficial to a new person moving in or somebody passing through.”
The freight room, Whaley said, could retain a museum use.
Bass agreed with some of the council members that the depot needs to be located where there is another point of interest in town.
“I don’t think that you’re going to have this depot that people are going to come just to see the depot,” she said.
Bill Berry, who lives across the street from the depot, asked the council to keep the building where it is, if possible.
He spoke of how his two homes on Main Street served as boarding homes for the depot years ago.
“This depot’s history is the history of my home on Main Street, but I get it,” Berry said. “I understand the safety part of it. ... I do get it, but I just want you to know that there are people like myself that the depot means a lot, to sit and look out the window and look at it. It will hurt me to see it go, but if that’s what happens then that’s what happens.”
Berry asked if upkeep was the issue from the town’s perspective, if the town would be interested in selling the depot. Howe said the committee would look into that possibility as part of its research.