Historic CSX train station decision delayed: Hamilton officials explain their sides

Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller and others want to save the historic CSX station and move it elsewhere, but he is concerned the railroad is preparing to tear it down. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller and others want to save the historic CSX station and move it elsewhere, but he is concerned the railroad is preparing to tear it down. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Delay to June 9 meeting will give more time to consider plan and whether to make adjustments.

Hamilton City Council voted 6-1 to postpone a decision on whether to save the historic CSX train station until its June 9 meeting. That will give city staff more time to explore other options on how it can be given a new purpose, in perhaps a different location than has been proposed.

In requesting the vote delay, City Manager Joshua Smith said he asked Finance Director Dave Jones to find out from federal officials whether funds from the American Rescue Plan Act can be used toward the estimated $600,000 costs of moving the station to another property and building a foundation for it to be placed upon.

One location now being considered as a new location for a single-story part of the train station is the city’s Marcum Park, although Smith told council the city has learned the place in the park that had been considered would cost an extra $150,000 to move utilities to make that possible.

Council members said they are feeling pressure from residents on both sides. There was strong advocacy at Wednesday’s council meeting by proponents for saving the mid-1800s station where presidents Lincoln, Eisenhower and Truman stopped.

Six people spoke on behalf of saving the station, and eight emails were read from people supporting saving the station, even though — as some of the proponents noted — a future use for it has not yet been determined.

ExploreSaving Hamilton’s historic CSX station would cost $600,000. A vote will come soon on whether to do it

The CHAPS (Citizens for Historic and Preservation Services of Butler County) board of directors also wrote, noting it had collected more than 1,700 signatures in favor of saving the station.

Among the proponents was Shi O’Neill, who told council: “It’s as old as the Civil War.... If you tear it down, there’s really no replacing it. I think it has a lot of meaning to a lot of citizens of Hamilton, and to destroy it would be a sin. I mean, it’s a treasure to the city.”

O’Neill recalled, “Every summer as a child, I would sit on a baggage cart and wait for my grandma to arrive on the Sky Chief when she came to visit from California. ... Others waited with the same anticipation for their loved ones to return from war.”

Whether it’s used as bathrooms to support a nearby Amtrak station, or as a museum, restaurant or welcome center, with visitors to the Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill, “however you use it, it will have a lot of meaning to those of us who grew up here.”

Resident Karen Whalen wrote that if Hamilton saves the station, “City Council will be on the right side of history.”

After Smith requested postponement of the vote until June 9, Vice Mayor Eric Pohlman, an advocate of saving it, said he didn’t want to wait. “In my opinion, I think it should be voted upon,” he said, even if that means members of council would vote against saving it. Pohlman noted he recently visited a train station in Kentucky that had been converted to a restaurant.

“I think it’s a good gamble,” Pohlman said.

But Council Member Carla Fiehrer said she believes “it’s irresponsible for us to rush into it,” instead of waiting “two weeks to get more information so that we can have a unanimous vote here.” She said she fears moving the station could wind up costing double the estimated $600,000. As someone who has rehabbed a historic building, she said she knows costs can spiral, and “once you start it, there’s no going back.”

Council Member Susan Vaughn said people have been asking her where the city would get the money for the station work, which does not include repairing it. She said she hopes city government won’t bear the entire financial burden for the project, and said she believes it’s important “to know as much as we can know” before taking a vote.

Vaughn also noted that train stations that were successfully saved have had things in common: A purpose, a plan for how it would be continued into the future, and funding.

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This rendering, created by landscape architect Dan Schneider, who volunteered his work, shows a vision of what Hamilton's historic CSX station could look like when moved to a new location, about two blocks from where it now is. PROVIDED

This rendering, created by landscape architect Dan Schneider, who volunteered his work, shows a vision of what Hamilton's historic CSX station could look like when moved to a new location, about two blocks from where it now is. PROVIDED

Combined ShapeCaption
This rendering, created by landscape architect Dan Schneider, who volunteered his work, shows a vision of what Hamilton's historic CSX station could look like when moved to a new location, about two blocks from where it now is. PROVIDED

Mayor Pat Moeller, who has pushed hardest to save the station, said he preferred to postpone the vote until June 9. “In my book, we need to save it. I don’t want to gamble tonight with the possibility of losing based upon comments.”

“If two weeks gives us another option, if two weeks gives us more education,” and possible of using federal funds, “I’m willing to wait two more weeks. ... And hopefully, we do save it,” he said. All voted to table the legislation except Pohlman.

Council Member Michael Ryan said he was willing to wait two more weeks, but he didn’t want the delays to continue after that.

Ryan noted CSX has pressed the city to make a decision quickly.

“I know that,” Fiehrer told him. “But what happens when we have to go to another $600,000, and another $600,000? Who’s going to pay for that?”

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