Cheney council passes on depot offer
The Cheney City Council has said “thanks, but we’ll pass” to an 11th-hour offer that might save the historic Northern Pacific train depot from the wrecking ball.
At its April 8 meeting Tuesday night, the council was presented with a proposal for donation of three lots along First Street for relocation of the depot from its current location directly east of the lots along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks. The offer was made by Dr. Peter Hansen, who negotiated a purchase of the lots for the purpose of relocating the depot.
The conditions of the donation require the city demolish the two current structures, whose last occupants were a tattoo shop and auto service business, move and install the depot and maintain it “in perpetuity as long as the trains roll thru Cheney.” The cost to the city to do that, Public Works Director Todd Ableman told the council, started at $415,200.
Ableman said there are “unknowns” regarding the depot and the First Street structures. The latter included the potential for asbestos, and the fact one of the buildings had been used for automotive related businesses in the past, which meant the soils underneath might require hazardous waste abatement.
Moving the depot could be done, Ableman said, but would also require asbestos measures as well as moving and installations costs such as new foundation, plumbing, electrical and ADA compliance measures at the new site.
“These are not exact figures, but they’re pretty good,” Mayor Tom Trulove said of the estimate, which came from staff experiences and outside experts.
For the council, it wasn’t a question about the historic nature of the depot, which was built in 1929 and is unique somewhat as it’s built in a Spanish Mission Revival architectural style — something rare to the Pacific Northwest. It was also built at the behest of former Cheney mayor Clarence Martin, who became the first Washington-born individual to serve as the state’s governor.
Rather, the council’s conclusion was best summed up by Councilman Graeme Webster.
“We don’t have the money, pure and simple,” he said.
Any funding for depot relocation would come from the city’s general fund, Trulove explained, a fund that pays for police, fire and other services and one impacted the most by tax revenues and decisions of the Legislature. Trulove said in previous city priorities discussions it was agreed funding another police officer position and making repairs and upgrades to the city’s 50-plus year old pool took precedence if extra money was available.
Several citizens spoke in defense of preserving the depot. Bonnie Eccles said she and others in the city feel these old buildings are important, and wanted the city to give it a couple months to see if something might develop from other sources.
“What I’m against is ‘we’re out of it, we can’t afford it,’” she said.
Cheney Museum director Joan Mamanakis noted the depot does have historical significance given some of the initiatives Martin undertook as governor, such as helping get the federal government to build Grand Coulee Dam. She also questioned a point raised by Trulove that demolishing the First Street buildings would remove potential business locations from the tax rolls, thus denying Cheney revenue.
If the depot were properly purposed and set up, it could also bring revenue to the city, Mamanakis believed.
In the end the council agreed to provide some contacts at BNSF to the museum and Hansen with the hopes they could possibly find other ways of funding the depot’s relocation.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.