That’s the question being asked following my story today about the $13.6 million federal grant announced for conversion of the Santa Fe Depot into a transit hub. It’s huge news, and it coincided with the city getting a favorable ruling from court commissioners on an eminent domain filing against the Brewer family, which owns the depot.
I gave all the details I had on the grant. But when it came to the eminent domain matter, well, it got left on the editing desk. Here’s the basic gist before I reprint what I wrote – I fully expect the depot to be acquired by the city by late October at the latest.
Now for what got cut. First, some history.
The Santa Fe train depot was boarded up when President Jimmy Carter ended Amtrak passenger rail service to Oklahoma in 1979. The train station was repeatedly vandalized, the ceiling caved in, and the depot became an eyesore in the next 20 years.
The late Jim Brewer bought the station in 1998 as the state was progressing in its efforts to restore passenger rail traffic. Brewer received a $1 million federal grant to renovate the station, and he agreed to provide access to Amtrak passengers under a temporary agreement that waived rent but charged the state for utilities and costs associated with use of the station.
In 2010, Brewer’s son Brent locked the doors twice in the week leading up to the annual OU-Texas game in Dallas, causing travelers on Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer to be diverted to vans and buses. At the time, Brewer complained state Transportation Department officials had failed to respond to his repeated efforts to draw up a new lease agreement that would cover increased costs associated with maintaining the depot.
The dispute ended with a lease that required the state to pay $15,297 a month for the passenger station and parking lot at the depot. The department allowed the Brewers to operate the parking lot with the two parties splitting revenues, with rates set by the Brewers. That dispute was mentioned in the successful application for the $13.6 million federal grant announced Thursday.
The grant announcement coincides with notification to city officials late Wednesday that court appointed commissioners ruled that the city will owe $4.5 million to the Brewer family for the depot, which the late Jim Brewer purchased in 1998 for $375,000. He then used a $1 million federal grant as part of a $2 million renovation before it could be accessible for restored Amtrak service to the city that started in 1999.
The city’s acquisition of the depot went into eminent domain earlier this year after the city’s purchase offer of $2.5 million was countered with a $23.5 million sale offer by Brewer’s son, Brent.
Assistant city attorney Dan Brummitt estimated that ownership will transfer within 30 days unless Brewer contests the city’s use of eminent domain to acquire the property. The transfer still takes place if Brewer asks for a jury trial to contest the sale price.
Brewer said Thursday he had yet to consult with his attorneys on the $4.5 million price, but was pleased with the possibility of opening up the depot tunnel to Bricktown, a project pursued by his father for almost 20 years.
“I’m still looking at my options,” Brewer said. “But I think it’s all positive news for the future of transit, and that this will be good for the community. This depot will be a great asset for the city.”