Yemassee buys train depot, the cornerstone of town's renovation

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Yemassee buys train depot, the cornerstone of town's renovation

By KATE CERVE kcerve@beaufortgazette.com 843-706-8177
Published Wednesday, March 10, 2010   |  503 Words  |  news

Ownership of the Amtrak train station in Yemassee is expected to transfer to the town in June, after the Town Council unanimously approved a purchase agreement for the historic depot Tuesday.
"This is a major first step," said Susan Sledz, executive director of the nonprofit Yemassee Revitalization Corp. "It's been a long time in the making."
The corporation, formed in 2008, is on a mission to restore downtown and stimulate the local economy, starting with a full renovation of the Amtrak station. Buying and restoring the vacant depot has been a dream of the town for many years, said Mayor J.L. Goodwin.
"We're really excited about this," he said. "I think it's the beginning of a lot of good things that will be going on downtown."
The Town Council bought the depot building for $1 from CSX Transportation and approved a $1 building lease with Amtrak, Sledz said. An Amtrak initiative helps communities across the country take ownership of their stations and encourages revitalization efforts, Sledz said.
Although 12,000 people got on and off of Amtrak trains at the Yemassee station in 2009, the depot building is closed. Windows are boarded, paint is chipped and doors are padlocked.
"It's in bad shape," Sledz said. "It needs a lot of work."
The revitalization corporation hopes to restore the depot to an early-20th-century look, with a pitched roof and board-and-batten siding, Sledz said. The station would include an Amtrak waiting room and restrooms and three other spaces for commercial or public use. Possibilities include a restaurant, small retail shop or public meeting room with wireless Internet access, she said.
Sledz said a contract with CSX Transportation to buy the parking lot beside the depot is being finalized, and the group hopes to install lighting and pave entrance ways.
There's no timeline for renovations because officials still are trying to secure funding for the project, which Sledz estimates will cost about $500,000. The group will apply for grants and has collected about $85,000 in private donations, she said.
"Our goal is to move forward as quickly and sensibly as we possibly can," she said.
Sledz said residents throughout the Lowcountry would benefit from a renovated station at the only Amtrak stop between Savannah and Charleston. The restoration would revitalize downtown and recognize the town's history with the railroad. Thousands of Marine Corps recruits passed through the train station in the first half of the 20th century on their way to boot camp on Parris Island.
"The depot is in the middle of the downtown area and has a major presence in the downtown area," Sledz said. "The railroad has always had a history with Yemassee. It can serve as a catalyst for neighboring business to be renovated and occupied."
Sledz said a train station was built in Yemassee soon after the Civil War and there have been several versions of a station building over the years. She said she believes the current structure was built around 1955.