Thursday, June 12, 2008

News---Gettysburg NMP May Add Train Station To Holdings Downtown

Gettysburg Train Station Promised To Park Service, Erin James, Evening Sun, June 10, 2009.

Gettysburg Borough officials intend to sell the Lincoln Train Station to the National Park Service, and they've set the minimum price for the historic structure at $722,000. The sale is not yet final, but action taken by the Gettysburg Borough Council essentially excludes any other parties from negotiating a purchase of the property at 35 Carlisle St. At Monday's council meeting, a 7-2 vote authorized President Dick Peterson to sign and deliver a letter of intent to the Park Service. The letter includes the minimum price, which borough finance director Mona Overton determined to be the borough's share of rehabilitating the deteriorating structure since it was given to the borough 10 years ago.

That's the figure needed "to make the borough whole," Councilman Ted Streeter said. Officials say the letter is the first step in a process they hope will end with the Park Service owning, maintaining and preserving the train station as a museum open to the public. Several things must happen before a sale of the train station - where President Lincoln arrived in town to make the Gettysburg Address - can be finalized.

For one, an appraisal for fair market value has to be conducted on the property. That's the figure for which Gettysburg National Military Park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon has said the Park Service would ultimately purchase the station. And because the Park Service is a branch of the federal government, Congress would first have to designate the train station as within the park's boundaries - something that could take an unknown amount of time. The borough's involvement with the train station goes back a decade, when the children of the late George Olinger, a Gettysburg businessman, donated the building for no compensation, but on the condition that it be restored and reopened as a museum. The 1859 station underwent a $3 million restoration project and reopened to the public in July 2007.

But financial struggles within the borough convinced some officials that the local government may not be the best long-term steward of the property. In December, council members announced they were considering the sale of the train station to the National Park Service but that they would entertain proposals from other parties. Little, if any, discussion about the potential sale was conducted until the council's May 12 meeting. Then on May 14, some borough officials meet with park representatives to review the letter of intent the council approved on Monday. That vote was not unanimous, however.

Two council members - and at least one resident who spoke on Monday - took issue with the elimination of other potential buyers and what they said was a lack of communication among council members about negotiations with the Park Service. Councilwoman Alice Estrada, who has an office in the train station, said Monday that she's not confident park officials will be successful in drawing tourists to the attraction - something she said is hardly happening now. "I'm in there, and it's quiet," she said. "How will it be different when the Park Service has it?"

Gettysburg resident Stan Clark said he opposed the selling of the train station to the Park Service without an opportunity for more public comment on the matter. He questioned how the sale of the building - which was restored using significant grant money - would affect the borough's potential for securing grants in the future. But Streeter and Peterson insisted the sale of the station to the Park Service was the best course of action. "I can't think of anybody better," Peterson said. "They would take care of it. They will bring buses to the downtown area."

The borough, Streeter said, "doesn't belong in the real-estate business" and no other entities have expressed serious interest in buying the station since the borough announced in December its intention to sell the property. Streeter said he is confident the Park Service will find the money to maintain the building and continue to operate it as a public attraction. "When they do something, they do it right," he said.

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