Monday, March 17, 2014
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Historic Lincoln Depot to be restored to its original 1911 footprint

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[March 17, 2014]  It's been a long time coming, but confidence is very high that in the next few weeks the Lincoln train depot and the city block it sits on will become the property of the city of Lincoln.

The depot is being purchased with funding through the Illinois Department of Transportation as part of the Alton-to-Chicago high-speed rail program. The dollars to purchase the property will be coming from IDOT, but the deed to the property will belong to the city of Lincoln.

Late last week Mayor Keith Snyder spent a few minutes with LDN, explaining what the future of the property will be. In recent days the word demolish has been bouncing around out in the community, and Snyder said he wanted it to be made quite clear that neither the city nor IDOT has ever considered tearing down the historic structure.

What they are going to do is refurbish and repurpose the property so that it will become a greater asset to both the city and Amtrak. And, the best part of the story is that all of the work to refurbish the property will be done with very few, if any, city dollars invested.

Snyder said part of the agreement with IDOT will include the city allowing Amtrak to have a waiting station on the property for the next 20 years. One of the questions, though, is where that waiting area will be. Snyder said IDOT has laid out two options for the city. One choice is to leave the small "Amshack" in place as the waiting station. The other option incorporates the waiting area back into the original depot.

For IDOT and Amtrak, the ultimate goal is to make travel by rail a viable alternative to highway and air travel and give the railway a greater share of the travel market. Part of the plan to do this includes offering travelers a positive experience, not only on the train but also at the waiting stations.

Snyder said if the waiting station went back inside the depot, he could envision several things happening there. He noted the area would be comfortable and attractive, and it would also provide a restroom area. Currently, commuters who need facilities are going across the street to Neal Tire to answer that need. Snyder said it would be better for Neal and for travelers if that was not necessary.

When asked if there was any merit to the speculation that the local tourism bureau could be relocated to the depot, Snyder said there were so many options to consider and those decisions were still a while off. For right now, he doesn't know what the final picture will be for inside the depot.

He said he could also envision perhaps a small coffee or snack shop inside the depot, which would also add to the comfort of travelers.

In addition, he would like to see part of the interior dedicated to something that might draw commuters back to Lincoln to visit. He said displays of what the city has to offer would give commuters something interesting to look at while waiting and maybe create a curiosity that would drive tourism dollars back to the city. He also pointed out that Lincoln has a rich history with rail, including the death train of President Abraham Lincoln. He said something could be done in a small museum-like setting that would highlight the city's history with rail.

As far as the rumors of demolition, Snyder said the plan is to get rid of all the extra structures that have been added to the depot over the years. Specifically, the two cabooses on the far north end of the depot will go away. The two Pullman cars that were used as dining space when the depot was a restaurant will also go away.

In addition, the wood deck on the back of the building and the wood structures on the front that were added as part of the restaurant will be taken out.

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When the depot was built in 1911, it was a long, somewhat narrow structure that actually consisted of two buildings joined by a roof only. The far north end was a square building used as the baggage area. To its immediate south was an open walkway with a roof over it, connecting it to the passenger waiting area of the depot. Brick walls were later erected to join the two buildings. Snyder said those walls will be taken out, and the open walkway will be brought back again with a roof over it.

The front or main entrance on the east side of the south end of the building was originally built as a canopy with brick columns and a roof. It was later enclosed to make an entryway for the restaurant. That, too, will be returned to its original state.

One of the big blessings for the restoration project is that in spite of all the changes that have taken place over the years, the original structure is still there with all the exterior brick walls still in place. Snyder said some of the brick has been painted and will have to be restored, and some of the windows have been covered over and will have to be exposed again, but it is wonderful to know that the original building is still there.

Outside, there are also options that will be considered for the green space. Snyder said IDOT has been great to work with and has provided the city with sketches of what could be done with the space. The purchase of property will include the full city block, which means the city will also own the green space on the west side of the train tracks.

On that side, Snyder said they are looking at the possibility of changing from parallel parking to angle parking like they did in the block to the south. He said it would increase parking capacity, and at least part of those spaces could be designated as 24-hour parking for commuters.

On the depot side, the city has options to consider that would offer a more park-like setting around the depot. Snyder said he felt that would be nice to give commuters a comfortable outdoor area that would be a pleasant place to sit and enjoy the fresh air.

If the Amshack goes away, the south end of the block could become the park-like setting, and the north end of the east side could be commuter drop-off. With the current add-ons removed, there will be a great deal more green space at the depot. Snyder said one of the options that has been laid out includes a drop-off area that would involve a driveway where vehicles could pull in off the street to drop off commuters and their belongings.

Snyder said there are still several decisions to be made about the future of the depot. And while he could make those decisions himself, he's going to opt for getting public opinion and input. He plans to hold public meetings where everyone can see the drawings provided by IDOT and express their likes and dislikes about each plan.

For right now, though, he said the most important thing he wants the community to know is that the city respects its historic depot and has no intention of tearing it down and replacing it with something more modern. The goal of the city is to keep its downtown area historically correct, but at the same time make it better. Bringing the Lincoln Depot back to its 1911 footprint will do exactly that.

Be sure to look at the photo album that accompanies this story. It will show you some of the changes that have taken place at the depot and will show what is going to go away in the near future. Snyder predicted that some of the work could start this year, with possible completion in 2015.


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