BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Three separate agreements were approved Tuesday night to move ahead with city plans to relocate the Amtrak Depot to Riverview Park.
During the city’s regular city council meeting, City Manager David Varley held up a stack of papers about five inches thick, representing about 10 years of negotiations between the city, Amtrak, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe.
The agreements outline the subleasing, construction, and responsibilities of all the parties in moving the depot to the North Lee County Museum, just off the tracks in Riverview Park in Fort Madison.
Varley said it would appear that the agreements are now ready for Amtrak officials’ signatures. When the documents are signed, the Iowa Department of Transportation can try to get them into a summer bid letting and get the project rolling.
“What I have here in my sweaty little hands are some agreements that have only been 10 years in the making,” Varley said. “There they are and we can finally put them to rest.”
He said Amtrak has given the ok on the agreements before and then asked for changes, but he said Amtrak officials have said they are prepared to sign off on the three agreements.
“We’ve been promised this time that if we sign them and send them to them, they will sign them, and they will go to the Iowa Department of Transportation.”
He said the signed agreements are one of the last few things IDOT is waiting on to set the project for a bid letting date.
“The only difference between this one and the previous agreements is the third agreement. There Amtrak has kindly conceded to be in charge of the janitorial inside the depot for the first 10 years of the agreement. Before we were taking care of the agreement.”
Mayor Brad Randolph said that concession on Amtrak’s part would save the city an additional $210,000 over 10 years. Amtrak has also agreed to contribute $150,000 to construction of the projected $1.3 million passenger platform. They would also pay the city $400 a month in rent for the space in the museum.
According to the agreements, the city would be responsible for all maintenance to the platform including snow and ice removal. The city is also on the hook for the utilities at the depot.
The city is currently waiting on formal approval of an additional $400,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Transportation Commission. Mayor Brad Randolph said he’s hoping the city has that news by the 16th of April.
The money isn’t guaranteed and Councilman Bob Morawitz asked if the city had an out in the agreement if that money didn’t materialize. Varley said IDOT would be accepting the agreements contingent upon the city obtaining the $400,000 grant.
Randolph said the council needed to keep in mind that it could cost the city more to get out of the agreement, if IDOT demands repayment of some of the grants already given to make improvements to the museum, including raising it out of the flood zone, and money used for preliminary work and studies to prepare the area for the depot.
Varley said during budget negotiations that IDOT could ask for a significant amount of money to be reimbursed if the city bailed on moving the depot, with some estimates being as high as $700,000.
“Remember getting out costs us more than staying in,” Randolph said.
“Depending on how nice or mean they want to be, yeah,” Varley said.
Councilman Matt Mohrfeld said he was willing to walk past the project, but gave Randolph and Chris Greenwald credit for finding a way to get the project done.
“They didn’t like to take no for an answer and they kinda brustled up a little bit and dug deep making phone calls and meeting with people and coming up with money,” Mohrfeld said.
“I’m really impressed you guys did that and took the project and didn’t just let go which would have been the easiest path. So kudos to you guys for doing that.”
In an unrelated issue, Randolph said he and Varley have had preliminary meetings with SmithGroup of Madison, Wis., a consulting group hired by the city to look into building a dock for a potential domestic cruise line stop in Fort Madison by Viking Cruises.
The city agreed last month to contract with SmithGroup for a $24,500 plus expenses feasibility study for what a dock with Vikings could look like.
Randolph said preliminary discussions with SmithGroup have unearthed some interesting “out of the box” ideas for possibilities down there.
“We’ve directed them in a most economical approach at this point with the thought maybe we could use some of those ideas to enhance the riverfront down there,” Randolph said.
“A lot of interesting things they put in there and, at some point, I think we’ll show you this list of possibilities they’ve come up with. It’s pretty neat.”
Varley said the city needed the feasibility study done so Viking Cruise Lines has an idea of costs as they have agreed to share in some of the costs associated with building the dock.
Randolph said he’s hoping to have that information by the end of the week.