City officials host railroad depot tour, public meeting

Big Rapids city officials and people from around the community had the chance to take a look inside the old Maple Street railroad depot on Thursday. Following the depot tour, people gathered at Big Rapids City Hall to discuss the possibility of the city purchasing the building and surrounding land from the state, as well as potential future plans for refurbishing the property. City Manager Mark Gifford said officials hope to continue the discussion at future Big Rapids City Commission meetings to determine public support and interest in the project. (Pioneer photo/Taylor Fussman)

BIG RAPIDS — After years of being boarded up, members of the Big Rapids area community got an up-close look inside the old railroad depot on Maple Street.

City officials invited anyone interested to attend the depot tour Thursday evening, and a public meeting following the tour, with the purpose of discussing the possibility of the city of Big Rapids purchasing the depot and surrounding land from the state, and what may be done with the building in the future.

Many community members jumped on the chance to see the inside of the aging building and express their opinion in favor of the idea of bringing it back to life. Nancy Burmeister and Barb Bazan were among those who believe something needs to be done with the property.

“I think if people saw the inside of the building they would really enjoy getting behind a project like this,” said Bazan.

As people wandered through the building admiring the relatively good condition of the woodwork and expansive windows even after being vacant for several years, many voiced excitement about the possibilities for what future purpose the building could serve.

“I’m just so excited that there is a possibility this building will be saved,” said community member Margo Berke. “I will be thrilled if someone can do something to restore it.”

Big Rapids resident Beverly Baker said she hopes the depot can be restored to its original character.

“We need to take care of our historical buildings and this is absolutely beautiful inside,” Baker said.

City Manager Mark Gifford said the city received state approval to purchase the building and land for $66,800 this year, but before making any decisions regarding purchasing the property, officials wanted to determine the public interest and support in a project to re-purpose the depot. Gifford added the city hopes to have an answer for the state as to whether the city will be purchasing the depot by the end of the year.

Although the general consensus was the depot’s location on the Fredrick Meijer White Pine Trail, community value and overall potential makes this a promising project to invest in, most people agreed the extensive cost to repair and refurbish the building, as well as a lack of a concrete plan for what to do with the depot, are significant hurdles for the city to conquer.

Gifford said the likely next step in the decision-making process will be hosting a work session at an upcoming Big Rapids City Commission meeting.

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