Town to lease heritage train station
Committee to find tenant for waiting room
HUNTSVILLE – One of Huntsville’s landmark buildings could have a new tenant, if one is found.
Tim Withey, chair of the town’s community services committee, said committee members agreed during a meeting on Jan. 15 to issue a request for proposals in an effort to find a long-term tenant for the Huntsville train station’s waiting room.
“We decided to throw the (request for proposals) out there for fun, just to see if anyone comes along,” said Withey. “Just to see what interest is out there.”
At the same time, the town will also advertise the building for short-term rentals and events, as it does with several other town-owned facilities.
“But, in my personal opinion, it’s got historical significance and it’s part of the fabric of the town,” Withey said of the train station. “It’s one of those unique assets.”
The debate over what to do with the waiting room sprung from the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission cancelling its lease of the space as it is no longer providing passenger rail service through northern Ontario.
The lease, which provided the town with about $1,000 each month in revenue for the 1,600-square foot room, will end March 6.
Withey said it is unclear whether passenger rail service will return to Huntsville, so it is not a strong enough motive to hold onto the waiting room. But the building’s cultural significance may be.
“We can’t hang onto it just because passenger service may come back. That’s not a reason,” said Withey. “A reason is to say we value this as an historical place.”
He added that committee would consider the potential long-term lease proposals that prospective tenants submit, but he would like to keep options open for the space.
Liz Stokes Weber, president of the Huntsville and Area Historical Society, said she understood the committee’s decision to look for a long-term leaseholder from a financial perspective, though protection of the building is important.
“It’s a prudent choice,” said Stokes Weber. “But, based on our mandate as an historical society, we want to be sure that this historic asset is protected.”
She gave a presentation at the committee meeting to encourage the town to consider options for use of the space. Those options included renting the space to various not-for-profit groups for meetings, enhancing the already substantial collection of heritage artifacts in the space to market it as a museum destination, and marketing the waiting room for small social events.
Stokes Weber said it would not only be a shame to lose public access to the train station waiting room, but would also make it difficult to protect the historical conservation easements on the building. Those easements put restrictions on renovations or modifications to the building’s interior and exterior.
The 1924 building was restored after significant contributions from the community.
Stokes Weber noted in her presentation that increased activity in the building would deter vandalism.
“These suggestions are simply thoughts for use of the waiting room space that could allow for a quick return to use as a passenger train station waiting room while still allowing for rental income at off times,” said Stokes Weber. “We sincerely hope that this committee will work with the historical society, and others, to find the appropriate uses for this space and not rush into a long-term lease that would close this asset to the people of Huntsville and perhaps in the future to our train travelling tourists.”
She said the purpose of the deputation was to express the historical society’s hope for the future use of the building and open communication with the town about the property so the two can work collaboratively toward an amenable solution.
“We want to be able to help create, not have people feel like we’re trying to butt heads or force things,” said Stokes Weber. “We want to work with the town to come up with a really good solution.”
Lucille Frith, president of the Huntsville Train Station Society, said her organization would continue to be active. She said the train station society has a lease with the town for the baggage room and display area of the train station.
Artifacts collected by the train station society that now sit in the waiting room include an antique, mint condition freight scale, a 1920s desk and restored heritage photographs.
Frith said her organization is now looking for partners to lease the waiting room.