Sitting unused and unattended as part of a railroad display in downtown Gainesville, a Southern Railway baggage car could soon be repurposed as a sort-of dining car.
Alpharetta’s Bob Cheeley is looking to move the historic train car from Engine 209 Park at 312 Jesse Jewell Parkway to The Chair Factory, an event and entertainment venue he’s developing on 13 acres at 456 Industrial Blvd.
Visitors will be able to “walk outside to (the car) to a platform that will resemble an old train station,” Cheeley said. “We’ll have a kitchen in part of it, and people can dine in part of it. And we'll have outdoor dining under a covered roof.”
Cheeley is able to move the car after Gainesville accepted his bid Thursday, Jan. 14, on GovDeals, an online auction site used by governments selling surplus items. The city had earlier declared the car as surplus after hearing from a couple of parties interested in making it part of their development, City Manager Bryan Lackey said.
Cheeley posted the lone bid of $10, but the move and subsequent renovation of the car will cost far more — possibly as high as $50,000 to move it and another $15,000 to restore it.
He said he would like to move the car in the next 60 to 90 days.
The site, occupying what was the former Georgia Chair factory, will host events such as weddings but also could include a distillery, brew pub, restaurant and music venue.
Events such as weddings are currently being held, but remaining elements, including the train car, “could come together this fall,” Cheeley said.
“I’m trying to create a destination that all of Gainesville and surrounding areas will find to be a very unique place to gather and enjoy each other,” Cheeley said.
Gainesville "feels the inclusion of the project will be a unique and beneficial component to the ongoing redevelopment of the Georgia Chair site that will provide a positive economic, as well as a quality-of-life component to the Gainesville community," Lackey said in an email.
The city had several conditions for the baggage car's removal from the site.
It needed to stay in the city and “be part of a redevelopment project,” Lackey had said. “If we feel it’s beneficial to the city, where citizens still have access to it, if it’s part of a redevelopment project that raises property values, we’ll certainly weigh that.”
City officials have long talked about moving the entire 1.7-acre railroad display, which sits at the corner of Jesse Jewell and West Academy Street, to other city-owned property and selling the land where it sits to spur additional growth in Gainesville’s downtown.
“That train really needs to be in a place that is convenient and can be better utilized by the public. … Also, it can be used with maybe a park around it so it would be a nice amenity,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said at a December 2018 redevelopment authority meeting.
The three railroad pieces have been at their current location since 1991.
Before finding a home at Jesse Jewell and West Academy Street, the engine was on display at the grounds of the old train depot and switching yard. The baggage car used to house a museum under the Georgia Mountains Museum, which became the Northeast Georgia History Center, but the museum has since closed.