Sedalia Railroad Depots: Part 2 – The Sedalia Depot

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Last week we explored the history, rehabilitation, and reuse of the Katy Depot in Sedalia, Missouri. However, there are actually two notable railroad depots in Sedalia that have gone through significant rehabilitation and are now have a presence in Sedalia beyond their original intended use. The former Missouri Pacific Railroad depot lies just a few blocks northwest of the Katy Depot and has morphed through the years differently than the Katy Depot.

The Missouri, Kansas, and Texas (MK&T) Railroad was not the first railroad that ran through Sedalia. Prior to the Civil War, Sedalia served as a terminus on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Shortly after the war, St. Louis and Kansas City were connected, but Sedalia still served as an important stop along the line. The arrival of the MK&T Railroad just solidified Sedalia as a railroad town.

Rise and Decline

Built in 1886 for $35,000, Sedalia’s Missouri Pacific Railroad Depot was a two-story structure with Queen Anne influences. Much like the Katy Depot, had it’s heyday in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The railroad business was a big part of Sedalia’s economy. By the early 1900s, the MK&T railroad had over 60 acres of shops in Sedalia, while the Missouri Pacific had over 125 acres.

Over 2,500 workers filled the yards, constructing and repairing engines, various passenger and freight cars, as well as the rails they rode on. But railroad strikes of the 1920s hurt the railroads, as well as the Great Depression. Business continued to dwindle after World War II with the rise of the automobile.

The Sedalia Depot underwent a significant renovation in 1951 in an attempt to update the facility and keep it relevant. The second story of the structure was removed entirely and the renovations did away with the Queen Anne style design in favor of an Art Moderne design.  But the use of the facility continued to go downhill with the further proliferation of the automobile and truck-based freight. Much like the Katy Depot and other railroad depots throughout the country, the structure fell into significant disrepair.

Union Pacific eventually bought the Missouri Pacific, but they had little use for the facility for their operations. That left Amtrak, which used only the eastern 2,000 square feet of the 8,000 square foot structure. The rest of the structure became dilapidated due to vandalism and neglect. Windows were broken out and graffiti-filled some of the walls. Conditions were bad enough that condemnation was considered with Amtrak possibly relocating elsewhere.

Hope for the Depot’s Future

That’s where Sedalia Downtown Development, Inc (SDDI) stepped in. SDDI is a non-profit organization that is centered on the preservation and revitalization of downtown Sedalia, where the depot resides. In 1998 SDDI started work on a plan to convert the station into a multi-modal transportation center that accommodates trains, buses, taxis, as well as bike and car rentals. They accepted a donative deed for the depot from Union Pacific in 2000. The UP retained the land around the facility but leased it to SDDI to allow the organization to maintain it. With ownership of the facility resolved, SDDI then started on the planning, fundraising, and construction work necessary to revitalize the structure.

The newly renovated depot would have three main tenants:

In 1999 OATS, a rural transportation service available throughout much of Missouri showed a desire to locate their regional office in the west wing of the facility. They’ve been operating out of the facility since 2009.

SDDI would then move its offices into the former pavilion area. As a non-profit organization dedicated to the revitalization of Sedalia’s downtown, what better way to represent that than taking residency into this former key structure for the city?

Located in the former baggage/freight area on the east end is Amtrak’s new waiting room. Through the use of federal grant funding, Amtrak was able to renovate the east wing of the facility into a modern waiting room. Upon completion of the renovations, Amtrak opened to passengers in May of 2011.

Finding the Renovation Funding

Overall, the cost of the improvements to the station totaled nearly $1.8 million and involved over a decade of work.

The project utilized a number of different funding sources to make the numbers work. Project representatives were able to acquire $540,000 in funds through the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts and Small Starts program. The depot was also able to obtain $250,000 in funding through the Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation Enhancement Act program as well as a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for $212,000.

It also doesn’t hurt to have people in high places. Congressman Ike Skelton parlayed is political willpower to acquire $550,000 in federal transit funding to help the rehabilitation project along.

The tenants also kicked in some funds. Amtrak secured $160,000 in funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Routed through the Mobility First program under the act, the funding was able to pay for the construction of a new 350-foot long concrete boarding platform for the depot. OATS Transit also acquired $137,000 in SAFETEA-LU funds to put towards the renovation of the western wing of the structure for their office.

Local Contributions Are Important

But as I’ve said before and I’ll say many times more, large projects don’t work unless there’s local “skin in the game”. The community needs to step in and provide a share of the funding. The Sedalia Central Business and Cultural District put $20,000 towards the project. SDDI also held a number of fundraisers and talked to potential donors to bring $30,000 more into the project.

The City of Sedalia itself also served as the grantee for a number of the grants. The City worked hand-in-hand with SDDI on the management and paperwork related to grant administration. They also pledged in-kind labor from their Public Works Department. Amounting to the equivalent of $60,000 in funding, their labor assisted in the excavation and grading work involved.

Unexpected Hurdles and Lessons Learned

As with almost any revitalization project of a facility well over 100 years of age, there were some unexpected hurdles to overcome. As the contractors started to replace the old passenger platform, a massive sinkhole was discovered just a few feet from the building. They also found asbestos in the window caulking that required attention.

When you’re dealing with multiple tenants, you’ll also need to adjust to the operational needs of the tenants. The Amtrak and the OATS Transit portions of the facility had to be flipped from their originally planned locations within the facility. OATS was planning on expanding its operations in the area and needed more parking. To accommodate their needs, SDDI purchased two adjoining properties from Union Pacific for additional parking. These lots were on the west side of the depot, necessitating the move of OATS to that side of the building.

The relocation of the two entities within the building actually improved the overall project. The OATS offices were relocated to the west side, closer to the parking area for their transit vehicles. Whereas, the move reduced the parking demand on the east side, allowing for the development of a pedestrian plaza between the Sedalia MoPac Depot and Ohio Avenue. The result was a vastly improved northern gateway into Sedalia’s downtown district.

ADA compliance through the US Department of Transportation also became a timeline-impacting issue. New directives from the USDT sparked significant debate between the freight and passenger sides of rail traffic. Until the issue was settled, the reconstruction of the loading platform for Sedalia’s depot was put on hold. Although there was a significant delay, the two sides eventually compromised and Sedalia was able to move ahead with the platform replacement.

The End Product

The Sedalia MoPac Depot is now fully rehabilitated and has evolved into a multi-modal hub for the community. The depot now serves as a starting point for journeys of residents and visitors alike. The depot also serves as the northern gateway into downtown Sedalia. It is clearly a symbol of the dedication of the community to the preservation and revitalization of the downtown area.

The depot is currently served by Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner. This passenger train runs back and forth from Kansas City to St. Louis, stopping in Sedalia along the way. Visitors from those two metropolitan areas can hop on the train, relax, and enjoy the views along the way.

What makes the trip better is that the Missouri River Runner allows for carry-on bikes. Riders can hop off the train at Sedalia and onto their bikes to start the next leg of their journey. They can bike into the town’s historic downtown, or take a path roughly six blocks to the Katy Depot. Visitors can then either tour the depot or start down the 239 mile long Katy Trail.

Visitors can also walk to the nearby downtown after stopping by the Sedalia Downtown Development Inc offices for information and recommendations. They can also request a ride from OATS Transit to other locations in the community and the surrounding region.

“We are very proud to have been able to save this local landmark and provide enhancement of this area of our downtown,” stated Meg Liston of SDDI.

Two Depots One Main Goal

Many of the end goals for the restorations of the Katy Depot and the Sedalia Depot were markedly different. They were both adaptive reuse projects, but with different mindsets from the start. The Katy Depot became more of a tourist destination, while the MoPac Depot became a multi-modal hub. But they both completed the common goal of restoration of a notable historic structure within Sedalia. Both projects have also become key contributors to the tourism sector of the economy for Sedalia.

Special thanks to Meg Liston, The Avenues/Sedalia Downtown Development Inc.

Further Reading

For more on the history of the Sedalia Depot and the Missouri Pacific rail line, be sure to read the National Register of Historic Places Inventory nomination form submitted for the depot. It delves deep into the railroad’s rich history and the architecture of the depot.

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