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Renovations to Lula's depot shaping up to be expensive for city
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Lula Mayor Jim Grier takes suggestions from council members and residents about proposed uses for the old railroad depot, which officials hope to renovate. - photo by Joshua Silavent

Even as Lula officials considered 30 possible uses for the historic train depot located in the heart of the North Hall community during a Thursday meeting, they acknowledged costs for proposed renovations might be significant.

Three proposals were presented to city officials Thursday, with baseline costs ranging from $130,000 to $178,000.

But City Manager Dennis Bergin cautioned that the renovations could take place in as many as three phases and far exceed an initial budget of $160,000 identified by city officials last year after the city took control of the depot.

The proposed renovations to better serve private, government and community events will take some fine-tuning and tighter budget estimates before a final plan is approved.  

“We’re not as far along as we’d like to be,” Bergin said.

Councilman Vince Evans proposed an alternative to keep costs down and maximize renovations by expanding capacity to meet demand for the space now and in the future.

For example, the city could extend just two sides of the depot while leaving the front façade — which faces Main Street, the railroad and downtown businesses — untouched.

This proposal would also include space for an interior stage and outside storage units for tables and chairs.

Two new proposals will now be drawn up and presented to city officials in the near future.

Councilman Garnett Smith said it’s important to expedite the process because renovation costs could rise in the future as supplies and other contracting costs go up.

But officials are also cognizant that promoting the space for private and community events will be part of increasing demand for the space that will justify the renovation costs. That’s why Bergin wants a marquee added.

Evans said he wants to renovate the depot now with enough capacity to meet future uses rather than coming back with additional upgrades when officials find that demand outweighs availability.

Renovations over two or three phases could be complete within two years, officials said.

“Let’s go ahead and do it right, right now,” Evans added.  

In December, residents were invited to submit input on whether upgrades to the depot could send ripples through the business community by expanding space to host more events and celebrations while retaining its traditional charm.

City officials entered into an agreement to take control of the train depot and rental venue from the Lula Area Betterment Association in August.

Private parties such as weddings, reunions and baby showers; business luncheons; school and club group meetings; exercise classes; and staging for farmers markets, classic car rallies, public movie screenings and garden shows are just a few of the potential uses for the depot once renovations are complete.

City officials expect to be able to recoup costs through rental fees, but turnout would need to be high enough to cover costs and warrant use.

Some of Lula railroad depot proposed uses after renovations

  • Private parties such as weddings, reunions and baby showers
  • Business luncheons
  • School and club group meetings
  • Exercise classes
  • Public safety training
  • Staging for farmers markets, classic car rallies, public movie screenings, garden shows
  • Government functions

Regional events