LULA — It’s taken longer than originally hoped, but Lula officials say planning to renovate the city-owned railroad depot is back on track.
During a lengthy work session Thursday, Mayor Jim Grier, the Lula City Council and others brainstormed about the future use, capacity and design of the depot, which was purchased from the Lula Area Betterment Association in 2017.
Together with residents and city staff, council members suggested more than 30 expected uses/user groups for the depot, then proceeded to develop participation estimates for each of those.
Three designs presented by Rindt-McDuff Associates Inc., for council consideration include:
- Option A, which would accommodate 80 people at round tables or 108 people at rectangular tables. The plan calls for renovation that keeps the building within its current shell but provides no storage for tables and chairs.
- Option B, which would bump out the walls that run parallel to the railroad tracks until they’re even with the overhang on the Main Street and Wall Street sides and would seat 128 people at round tables or 180 at rectangular tables. It also would include room for some type buffet bar. The design would not include storage for tables and chairs.
- Option C, which would add a 30-foot by 20-foot extension on the Wall Street side of the building and create storage at the end of the building. That option would provide seating for 104 people at round tables or 176 at rectangular tables. The design would negatively impact the current circular driveway.
Prices for the designs range from roughly $130,000 to $178,000, though those estimates could increase depending on site development and selected features.
The prices quoted average out to spending about $850 to $1,200 per person, based on estimates for the majority of activities that utilize the inside of the building.
Councilman Vince Evans suggested modifying Option B to extend the building to the end of the porch on the caboose end and possibly bump out at least part of the wall on the Wall Street side.
“I think it was a good discussion,” Grier said of council input that resulted in the hybrid designs. “We identified the designs that more closely fit what we thought our capacity and uses we needed, and then asked our engineer to make a couple of slight modifications to see if it might better fit, so we’re getting closer to our solution, I think.”
Following the work session, Grier shared his thoughts on what he felt was accomplished Thursday.
“We had a very good discussion,” Grier said. “We talked a lot about the options, the expected uses we have for the depot, and we certainly want to make it very useful and suitable for different uses for our community.”
During the discussion, officials discussed rental offerings at nearby Jaemor Farms and other facilities.
Evans stressed he is not in favor of spending more than $100,000 to have the depot be the same size.
Council members and Grier agreed they want to see the vast majority of the initial work on the project to focus on improving the depot building itself, with some councilmen saying no more than 15 percent of the money spent on that phase should go to the grounds.
Grier explained the brainstorming session that helped determine uses; the assignment of whether each was a community, city or private function; and the expected participation numbers.
“We were trying to find where we fit in the market,” Grier said. “Do we have an adequate facility, or is it oversized? It is undersized? That what we wanted to try to determine what the capacity is that we needed for our anticipated uses here in the community.”
But even though any work on the depot won’t begin until after Railroad Days in May, that doesn’t mean Lula officials aren’t preparing for its completion.
“We also actually began making a little bit of policy decisions about how we want the facility to be used — what kind of uses we would want to schedule in advance for the city and for the community, and then how we would set up dates for private rentals,” Grier said.