Great Enthusiasm and Potential for Green River Train Depot

Great Enthusiasm and Potential for Green River Train Depot

SweetwaterNOW photo

GREEN RIVER — An open house of the Union Pacific Railroad Depot drew several enthusiastic community members Tuesday afternoon and that excitement might just be what breathes new life into this building.

The City of Green River has engaged in a project with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their contractor Vita Nuova regarding future reuse potential of the Historic Union Pacific Depot building. The depot falls under the EPA Land Revitalization Technical Assistance projects, in which non-grant funds are provided to communities to help specific brownfields reuse projects.

The team tasked with the project spoke to the Green River City Council Tuesday night in a workshop following the open house, in which they outlined the best ways to make use of the building and receive funding to do so. They spoke highly of the community members and their excitement in this building’s potential.

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“This can be something pretty dynamite,” Elaine Richardson, Vita Nuova contractor said. She said that her and her colleagues were surprised to see the enthusiasm in the community during the open house.

Building Conditions

Nicole Henderson, Vita Nuova contractor, said that the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality completed a clean up in 2018 that identified and removed asbestos and other hazardous materials such as lead-based paint. However, Henderson pointed out that “time is unkind to buildings”.

This means there have been some changes in the building’s conditions since 2018, including the former office building having new contamination from Guano, as the pigeons have made this space their home. There is also water damage to the structural frame and window damage.

She pointed out to the Council that the tenants of the building will not be the ones paying to bring the building up to code. Therefore, she said the city will need to think about this and figure out ways to pay for these updates and renovations to prepare the building for the tenants.

Henderson said that the building had an envelope assessment in January 2023 that identified several urgent issues. These will need to be addressed or else the building will remain at risk for further degradation from weather. She also noted that since the building is in Green River’s Historic District, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) will have a set of guidelines for renovations. The SHPO will need to approve all exterior finishes, which will be more from a “looks standpoint” rather than a use standpoint, she explained.

However, due to its status as a historic building, it may present more funding opportunities.

Possible Uses

Henderson said that since the building is nearly 22,000 square feet, there is a lot of potential use.

“This building will not be used by one tenant, it’s too big for that,” she said.

The depot will have several different uses, which Richardson said should be kept in mind when phasing the program. Richardson said that it’s not just the size of the building but the fact that the spaces inside the building are so different. She noted that this can be used to the city’s advantage, as they do not have to have every space ready at once, but can instead take time to incorporate all interests throughout the revitalization of the building over the course of several years.

Residents shared on Facebook what their top desires for the building are, which included the following uses:

  • Brewery/restaurant
  • Event center/rental
  • Museum (train, mining, children)
  • Youth center
  • Indoor market place (farmer/craft/home business)
  • Indoor recreational (youth or other)
  • Offices/small business incubator space

Henderson said once again that the community enthusiasm for ideas, realistic and more far-fetched, is “fantastic”. She said that the community’s stories and ideas will be beneficial when going out for funding.

Funding Sources

Henderson listed a few options for funding, but she pointed out that new funding sources may become available throughout the project. A few of the funding opportunities include:

  • Federal Historic Tax Credits
  • USDA loans and grants
    • Business- Loan Guarantees
    • Energy- Energy Systems and Efficiency Improvement Loans and Grants
    • Community Facilities- Loans and Grants
  • Wyoming Business Council
    • Business Ready (Loans/Grants)- Readiness and Projects
  • Office of State Lands and Investments
    • Capital Construction Loan Program
  • Additional Financing
    • EPA Assessment and Clean-Up Grants
    • Coal Community Funds
    • UP Foundation
    • Tax Increment Financing
    • WYDOT- Transportation Alternatives
    • New Market Tax Credits

Richardson said that because of the growth in downtown Green River, the positivity and enthusiasm of the people, and the development in the area, the building has more market potential.

She also pointed out that Union Pacific has a foundation that could provide funding for actual uses, but not building renovations such as the water issues.

Richardson also said that it is important not to choose the uses for the building yet, and instead focus on understanding the challenges in the building condition first. She said that other communities in Wyoming who have successfully renovated their train depots, such as Evanston and Rock Springs, have continued their success by ensuring the maintenance of the building is not the tenants’ responsibility. Instead, the cities have line items for maintenance in their city budgets.

Additionally, Richardson pointed out that the depot is on ground that the city leases from Union Pacific. The lease is for 30 years, and the city is 10 years into that lease. She added that Union Pacific can terminate the lease with 30 days notice. She said that these lease circumstances can present difficulties in getting financing and tenants.

Luckily, Richardson said there are opportunities to negotiate the lease and that Union Pacific is open to having those conversations. At that time, the Union Pacific will present their own wants, and the city can also present ideas for funding from the Union Pacific foundations.

Priorities Moving Forward, Project Champion

Richardson said that it is important not to choose the uses for the building yet, and instead focus on understanding the challenges in the building condition first. She said to have success, the city needs to prioritize investment in the building envelope, utilities, and health and safety improvements.

The building needs to be tightened up as soon as possible to both protect it from further degradation, and get it ready so potential tenants will be attracted to the space. She pointed out that people can’t see the vision when so much still needs to be done to fix the building up.

Richardson also emphasized the need for a “champion” to drive this project forward. She said that while members of the city staff have dedicated a lot of time to this project, the champion should be a local nonprofit organization, or an entity in the community, an individual, or a steering committee. This is because the project will take several years, beyond the Council and some staff members. She said the city should identify its leaders for the project as it could open up more funding opportunities and will ensure the project has longevity.

Green River Public Works Director Mark Westenskow said that some of the city’s most successful and favored assets, such as the Greenbelt and the bike trails, have been successful due to leaders from the public and not just city staff.

Mayor Pete Rust said that this project has been a positive experience so far with a lot of public input. He said he can think of dozens of leaders in the community who have already identified what a resource the depot is to the community.

“I’ve never seen such a number of enthusiastic people,” he said.

The EPA and contractors have been working on this project since February 2023 and will finish their report in September 2023. Their work will help the city gain valuable information to determine the next steps for the building.