A new future for a historic building
City considers potential uses for downtown depot
July 20, 2023
The historic Union Pacific train depot in downtown Green River usually stands empty, apart from the pigeons that have found their way in. But on Tuesday afternoon the doors were opened and community members and local government leaders gathered inside to dream about a future where the building is once again full and active.
People wandered through the large brick building, looking into the various rooms, even climbing the stairs and using cell phone flashlights to look through the old office space on the second level. They also took time to write their own ideas for the building's future on sticky notes and share them on a large poster board.
Ideas for the depot included a brewery or restaurant, an event center and rental space, various kinds of museums, a youth center, an indoor marketplace or farmers' market, an indoor recreation space, room for offices and small businesses, and more.
Over 100 people stopped by the open house, which was hosted by the city of Green River and the groups that are helping the city evaluate options for the building's future, including the Environmental Protection Agency and Vita Nuova.
Elaine Richardson, the Vita Nuova Vice President, explained that the company's name means "new life" - "which is what we try and bring to these buildings. That's what we do," she said. "We are specialists in redeveloping brownfields properties."
Richardson, along with Vita Nuova VP of Community Development Nicole Henderson and EPA Brownfields Project Manager Ted Lanzano, not only met with the public to discuss the building during the open house, but also presented more information on the building's potential to the Green River City Council during a workshop before Tuesday night's council meeting.
To begin the workshop, City Public Affairs and Grants Manager Ryan Rust explained that it was a little over a year ago when he first heard about the EPA's Land Revitalization Technical Assistance program, which provides support in developing former brownfield sites. From there he started working with Lanzano and Vita Nuova to look into what reusing the depot could look like.
Lanzano explained the assistance program is designed "to help communities reuse challenging properties like the depot so they can be put back into productive use."
Henderson gave the city council members an overview of the building's needs and funding opportunities. While a grant was previously used to clean up the building in 2018 and get out contaminants like asbestos and lead paint, other contamination and damage has occurred in the five years since then. A report done at the beginning of this year, The Historic Green River Depot Building Envelope Assessment, identified urgent issues that need to be addressed and noted that without making changes the depot "will remain at risk for further degradation from weather."
Henderson explained that the building will need significant repairs and upgrades in order to be fit for use by tenants. These upgrades include things like meeting health and safety and general code guidelines as well as adding utilities and features for ADA compliance. Henderson also noted that since the building is a recognized historic site, the city will have to work together with the State Historic Preservation Office on things like exterior finishes and preservation standards.
Despite the updates that are needed, Henderson said the depot is a great building that has "good bones" and provides a lot of space. The total floor area available is almost 22,000 square feet, and the building could provide multiple uses for multiple tenants.
While Henderson admitted that bringing the depot back into use "has a very large price tag," she said there are multiple opportunities for funding available. Some of the potential initial funding could come from sources like Federal Historic Tax Credits, The US Department of Agriculture, the Wyoming Business Council, the Office of State Lands and Investments, and other similar agencies. Henderson also pointed out there could be different funding opportunities at different stages, or ways to use funds to offset other city projects in order to shift other funds toward the depot.
Richardson also noted that for the sake of both funding and organization, the project could eventually look for a "future champion," either an organization or individuals to lead the charge. She explained this could be a nonprofit, which could help in applying for grants, or it could be individual volunteers or something like a steering committee.
Before the project gets to that phase, however, Richardson pointed out that one of the next steps is for the city to work with Union Pacific. While the city owns the depot building as it was donated, it is on land that is owned by Union Pacific and leased to the city. The city is currently 10 years in to a 30-year lease. There's also a term that says UP can withdraw the lease within 30 days notice at any time. While this is common in UP leases, Henderson explained, it can make it hard for sub-tenants who could use the building to get financing. Henderson recommended city officials have conversations with UP to see if the lease can be re-negotiated. She also noted that she's known UP to give 100 year leases and to support community projects, but for things like that to happen, the conversation has to be started.
While getting the depot to the point that it can be used will take time and money, the Vita Nuova representatives noted they've seen projects like this happen across the country, especially when they have strong community support, and the support already present in Green River blew them away.
"We did not come in expecting the kind of enthusiasm and attendance that we had today and that is so great to see," Richardson added. "Embrace that. There's always going to be a lot of different ideas. But you've got a community that wants to do something, wants some action, and they're interested in this. That's great."
Mayor Pete Rust also noted the positive environment at the open house and the number of community leaders who were present and enthusiastic about the potential resource.
"I've never seen such a number of enthusiastic people," Rust said.