Jane Abraham, the city's community and government affairs manager, spent the weekend of May 31 working on the grant application at City Hall while downtown was threatened with tornadoes and flooding.
“It's a big deal for regional transportation,” Abraham said. “We get closer to that mission of getting the region connected.”
David Todd, manager of the city's MAPS 3 office, said the grant puts design and construction on the hub on a short schedule, with work to be completed in 2016.
Specific improvements include opening a tunnel in the depot through the BNSF Railway viaduct wall facing the Bricktown Canal to allow for a direct passenger connection to the entertainment district, improved Amtrak boarding platforms, ticketing and baggage areas, a pedestrian plaza extending to E.K. Gaylord, and hastened construction of a streetcar alignment in front of the depot.
Public Works Director Eric Wenger said a lot of questions remain, including whether a proposed streetcar route is approved next month by the city council.
“It gives us a really unique opportunity to get these projects designed together so they work seamlessly,” Wenger said.
The grant news coincides with notification to officials that court-appointed commissioners ruled the city owes $4.5 million to the Brewer family for the depot.
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ABOUT THE TRAIN DEPOT
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.
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.