Depot's loss may be Riverwalk's gain
By Frank Boyett

The old Union Station railroad depot may have reached the end of its line, but that building's death could help birth an extension of the community's Riverwalk.

During a five-hour workshop Tuesday evening by the Henderson City Commission, it was told that the main costs of saving the depot apparently are not eligible for the federal grants the city had been hoping to finance the project with.

Instead of applying for grants to fund the depot's renovation, according to John Talbert, the city's community development director, the city should apply for grants to build between 12 th and Sixth streets what in essence is an extension of the popular Riverwalk. Building that new walking and biking trail, however, would require making Merritt Drive a one-way street for those six blocks.

Only vehicles traveling south – or toward downtown – would be allowed.

Talbert said the main reason he was recommending the city drop the depot's renovation is because the state officials that administer the federal grant program determined that stabilization of the building's foundation would not be eligible for funding. Several years ago the city obtained about $300,000 to renovate the building, but since then it has learned that the building's foundation has badly deteriorated.

Renovation of the building where it sits would cost between $1.3 million and $1.7 million, he said, while moving the depot downtown would probably cost $1.7 million to nearly $2 million. In either case, he said, the city would have to pick up about half the cost from its own coffers.

Consequently, he recommended that “we no longer pursue the depot project.”

“What the hell does that mean?” asked Commissioner Michele Deep. “Is it just going to sit there and die? It breaks my heart. That's a prideful part of our history.”

City Manager Jeff Broughton said the city would mothball the building – and hope that some unforeseen funding source opens up.

“It's not an unsafe structure,” he said, adding that the city will just “button it up. We don't intend to spend any money on it. It's there until the elements get it or until we find some funding.”

The city of Henderson obtained the building from the Henderson County Historical and Genealogical Society several years ago, largely because the city was eligible for grant funding the society could not obtain.

Frank Nally, the society's president, urged the city officials to try to convince one of Kentucky's U.S. senators to place a line item in the federal budget to pay for the depot's renovation.

“That's the last ray of hope for the depot,” he said. “It's probably a long shot, but the worst they can tell us is no.”

Broughton agreed that the city should “see if we pull a rabbit out of the hat.”

“We're not shutting the door,” said Mayor Joan Hoffman.

Talbert said the $320,000 Riverwalk extension project along Merritt Drive would dovetail nicely into the planned redevelopment of the old Mulzer gravel quarry at Water and Sixth streets. The city already has $1 million for redevelopment of the Mulzer site, he said, noting that U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell placed that line item in the federal budget last year.

Once both the Mulzer and Merritt Drive projects are finished, he said, the city will have a continuous walking and biking path along the Ohio River from downtown all the way to Hays Boat Ramp, a distance of about three miles.

The project will entail building a median between the walking path and that portion of Merrritt Drive used by vehicles. Lights would be installed every 150 feet, and there would be a couple of scenic overlooks with benches installed.

The Gleaner
Wednesday, January 16, 2002
Reprinted with Permission

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2007 HCH&GS