After two years of frustrating derailments, the committee trying to save the Storm Lake railroad depot is suddenly back on track with a new proposal and a full head of fundraising steam.
A few days ago, a railroad official called committee founder Brad Strader to say that the Canadian National will agree to consider the proposal to allow the group to purchase the depot and move it onto railroad property at the current site of a chamber of commerce downtown employees parking lot off Railroad Street near Medicap Pharmacy.
It is considered a first breakthrough for the committee, which had been turned away at every junction by the railroad over the past two years. The railroad refused to give the depot to the group at its current railside site, out of fear of liability. When the committee proposed earlier this season to move the depot to a site north of the school administration building, the railroad also refused that.
The Save the Depot committee met Saturday to begin putting together a proposal to obtain the depot, which it plans to move, restore and open as a community welcome center with possibly some office space for community programs as well.
They plan to hire architect Johnny Boyd, a former Storm Laker who specializes in historical buildings. Architectural services are expected to cost up to $8,500, and the total costs for moving and restoration could well reach $325,000.
The group has no treasury, and will start to plan a community fundraising campaign. Veteran fundraiser Clarence Richardson of Storm Lake has volunteered to lead that effort.
The fundraising goal is initially set at $150,000. The committee then hopes to leverage the local money by approaching the State Historical Society for grants of $125,000 or more.
Strader has also approached Storm Lake Mayor Jon Kruse with a request that the city provide funding from local option sales tax revenues to move the depot the two blocks across Lake Avenue to the new site. The move is expected to cost $40,000-$50,000. Kruse made no indication of whether that was possible, but said he would bring the issue before the city council at its upcoming strategic planning meetings.
"We think that is appropriate because this is such a historically important building to the community of Storm Lake," Strader said.
The committee has asked the Storm Lake Area Development Corporation to contribute by obtaining a site in the rural eastern edge of Storm Lake to give to the railroad for a new storage building site that will be needed when it gives up the depot. If such an exchange is not made, the group would have to look at buying the depot property at market valuation.
The committee hopes to see the city lease the current depot site from the railroad to use it as a downtown parking lot for use when the depot displaced the current chamber lot. "Because this site is so visible to the downtown, we would like to see that site in local control so that it doesn't just turn into an unsightly junkpile," Strader said.
The committee has also asked to be given the small railroad shanty building near the tracks downtown, to be added to the historical development.
While the committee considered attaching itself to some other local program, such as the historical society or Storm Lake Foundation that established the Field of Dreams, the decision was to try to do the project as a separate entity. It will seek non-profit charitable status.
"We are still a mile away from what we want to achieve, but the fact that we have a go-ahead to plan a project on a specific site is important," Strader told the Pilot-Tribune.
After months of ignoring the pleas of the local committee, due in part to the Canadian National's recent focus on involvement with a new ethanol plant near Fort Dodge, railroad officials now seem to want to jump on the fast track, Strader reports.
"They asked how fast we could get a proposal to them, and they have already leased office space for their workers in the building next to the gazebo downtown, so they are basically vacating the depot."
A year ago, talk was of taking bids to demolish the 1915 structure, which has become dilapidated over the years.
"It seems that there is no discussion any more of tearing the depot down. If nothing else, I think we have impressed on the railroad the idea that the community feels there is a use for this structure and that it would not be wise to destroy it," Strader said.
The depot is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The project appears to be the most popular with those who have seen the most Storm Lake history, Strader said.
"The older generation is already stepping forward. They are the ones who experienced riding the trains, and they know how much the railroad meant to establishing Storm Lake."