The historic Lula train depot is now officially owned by the city.
By signing a contract and flipping the keys of the property over to Mayor Milton Turner, Mere Barbee relinquished control of the facilities that is home to Railroad Days — a popular festival that’s been held in the spring for more than 40 years.
Turner addressed the public Friday during a special called meeting of the City Council at the train depot at 5911 Wall St. to thank Barbee and her small group of long-time volunteers with the Lula Area Betterment Association.
“Thank you for 40 years of service,” Turner told the volunteers who have been running and promoting the depot. “Mere and to the LABA membership we want to thank y’all so much for keeping this place intact. Some of you may not know, this pace is special to me. This place was started when I was president of LABA.”
City Manager Dennis Bergin turned the transfer of ownership into a celebratory occasion. He issued an open invitation to the public to join in thanking LABA for its donation of the depot property to the city. Bergin cut a big sheet of yellow cake with white frosting and handed out hefty portions.
The ceremony was the kind of “happy occasion” Barbee said she’d hope LABA would get from the city to recognize the group’s donation of the property to the city.
“Thank you all for coming, especially thank you for all our volunteers,” Barbee said. “You’ve been with us a long time and you’ve helped make this place very successful.”
LABA volunteer Winifred Swingle said she remembers when the group was just a garden club that planted flowers at the depot property. She brought two friends visiting from Scotland — John Fraser and his wife Anne — who are staying with her for two weeks.
“I’ve been to Scotland a few times to stay with them,” Swingle said.
The city and LABA negotiated for a year and a half before reaching an agreement last month. The city agreed to pay LABA $5,000 for equipment for which the group paid and is leaving behind. LABA also gets up to $4,000 for its legal fees.
Barbee said the group is donating to charity the $5,000 it is getting from the city. She said the depot property is valued at $180,000.
Bergin said the city will set aside approximately $160,000 to renovate the facilities. Upgrades to the facility are scheduled to begin early next year.