Get a Grip: Depot needs help

On my daily drive through the assorted eyesores that compose much of historic downtown Kingman, it stands out.

Like the rest, its paint is peeling, windows boarded and walls sagging.

It is just another depressed building in a depressed downtown in a town that claims to be thriving.

But the old railroad depot is a symbol, a symbol of a more important past when the depot was the center of town, the hub of all coming and going.

The building, remarkably, is still used by its owner, Burlington-Northern Santa Fe Railroad.

Why the owner shows no pride of ownership in its historic treasure is a mystery to me.

The last time the building was painted was in 1971 as the result of community pressure.

Windows broken by vandals have simply been boarded over.

Requests to BNSF from community groups for aid in restoring the depot have reportedly been largely rebuffed.

But a recent communication with a BNSF representative has encouraged me just a little bit.

Like many towns across the West, Kingman is faced with the opportunity to reinvent its downtown or let it, and any of its inherent charm (because let's face it, a picture of Hilltop isn't worth a postcard to anywhere) continue to wither and die.

All around us we see towns that have capitalized on the historic wealth of their downtowns to draw visitors by the busload.

And while a downtown renaissance is a long way away, the depot is an obvious place to continue the effort lead by the Powerhouse, the landscaping along Route 66 and the Hotel Brunswick.

But getting something done as simple sounding as painting the depot has proven oddly difficult.

BNSF is obviously not interested in maintaining its property if the last paint job was in 1971.

But will the company work with the city to improve the depot?

A request for information about the state of the depot made via email to BNSF got me a somewhat terse response from spokeswoman Lena Kent.

Kent informed me that a recent attempt by BNSF to restore the interior of the building was stymied by the discovery of asbestos and the accompanying state and federal requirements to bring the facility up to current code.

The project was suspended.

While I'm shocked that a large company like BNSF would be taken by surprise by the requirements of the building code, I'll accept her answer for now.

As for painting the building, Kent wrote that, "BNSF has no objection to the repair and repainting of the exterior of the building and perhaps adding some landscaping, subject to BNSF approval."

Kent said BNSF had been in contact with city Manager Lou Sorensen and agreed to a meeting to discuss the fate of the depot.

Sorensen confirmed the contact and said a meeting has been scheduled for Jan.

23.

And while he said BNSF has sent "mixed signals" regarding its intentions for the depot and wondered why the company won't put money into its property, Sorensen was optimistic about the chances for some progress at last.

He said the city will apply for grant money and work to make the depot the centerpiece it deserves to be.

The cost will be considerable because the city will likely have to pay for the materials, labor and buy an expensive insurance policy.

The insurance would probably be the biggest cost – a cost that could be avoided if BNSF contributed the labor (I would imaging the company holds sufficient insurance for folks working near a railroad, them being in the railroad business and all).

If they did that, maybe we could get local businesses to donate paint.

Heck, I'd contribute cookies for a bake sale to raise money for the project.

Because of a restriction imposed by BNSF, the depot cannot be open to the public.

Kent said the building can't be used by the public unless it is at least 25 feet from the tracks.

The Kingman depot is only 15 feet from the tracks.

But Amtrak still wants to use a small portion of the depot for use by its passengers; and the rest of the building could be used for storage.

Meanwhile, a fresh coat of paint and a little landscaping would go a long way towards improving the view for drivers on Route 66.

But for that to happen we need BNSF to come to the table and work with the city in good faith.

To that end I am encouraged by recent communication from BNSF and look forward to that meeting on Jan.

23.