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From: "Jim Dent" jim DOT dent AT itochu DOT com
Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2001 04:49:22 -0400
Subject: More on Anniston, AL
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More from the Anniston (AL) Star...
Renovation is a key to keeping Amtrak in Anniston
by Daira Jarrell
PHOTO: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star: Anniston officials are negotiating
with Norfolk Southern to purchase the Anniston train station.
If restorations are not made soon to Anniston's decaying train depot, city
officials fear the all-aboard call for Amtrak will ring out in Oxford
instead of Anniston.
During a City Council work session Tuesday, Mayor Gene Stedham asked Scott
Barksdale, the executive director of the Spirit of Anniston, if there is
"any truth to the rumor" that Amtrak may be lured to Oxford. Yes, mayor, the
rumor is true, Barksdale replied.
For three years, Anniston has been waiting to restore the station on 4th
Street, Barksdale said. The city has more than $200,000 in grant money
poised to make it happen.
All Amtrak wants, Barksdale said, is a station where the paint isn't
chipping off the walls, the ceiling doesn't leak and the passengers actually
can purchase tickets for their journeys.
But Anniston cannot begin to refurbish the station. For years, Norfolk
Southern, the freight line that owns the depot, has haggled with city
officials over a selling price. Until Anniston gains control of the lease,
it cannot begin to bring life back to the aging structure, Barksdale said.
"In order for us to access the grant or for us to move forward we have to
have control of the station," Barksdale said.
Barksdale said Norfolk Southern initially asked $130,000 for the station.
The city refused to pay the amount because it was deemed an unfair market
value. Now, three years later, the city has agreed to pay $50,000 - a price
Barksdale says he feels comfortable the company will accept within the next
Norfolk Southern representative Bob Auman would only say: "We have received
an offer and it's under review."
Oxford Mayor Leon Smith denied having spoken to anyone about the potential
for Amtrak relocating to his city. Smith did not rule out the possibility
that Oxford might consider it in the future.
"I swear, this is the first I've heard of it," Smith said. "Maybe some
people are just saying that because me and Gene Stedham don't get along all
Stedham did not return phone calls concerning the situation. A
representative for Amtrak also could not be reached.
The importance of having an Amtrak stop cannot be underestimated, Barksdale
said. Anniston's location between Birmingham and Atlanta makes the city a
prime location for stopping passengers to consider locating businesses and
spending money in the city.
"When you start looking down the road and you have this opportunity, the
last thing you want to be like is the people in the 60s who said, 'we don't
want the Interstate,'" Barksdale said.
With Honda coming to Lincoln, the potential for passengers using Anniston as
an embarkation and destination point grows, he added.
Barksdale said even if Smith wants the station, he is confident Anniston
will not lose its Amtrak stop.
"As long as we're back in the hunt regarding acquisition of the station and
the renovation of it, then we're fine," he said.