Local Government and Politics, News

Swampscott’s historic train depot needs a future

The train station in Swampscott. (Owen O'Rourke)

SWAMPSCOTT — Town officials are taking another look at a potential reuse for the vacant historic train depot building.

The Swampscott Railroad Depot — the old station building at the train station — was built in 1868 and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. It’s not in use and has been vacant for years.

The town previously leased the building from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), but the town doesn’t have a current lease.

Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald said the town is interested in working with the MBTA to renew that lease, which has been up for several years, with a goal of a supporting a strategic use of the property.

Fitzgerald said the town would lease the property long-term, but would then sublet the property to a potential tenant interested in reusing the property — the MBTA would have to approve the use. He said the MBTA would establish certain conditions and the town would be required to maintain the property.

“Part of the goals in the Master Plan would be not just to preserve the building but celebrate the central location in this neighborhood and find some productive commercial use of the building,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said it would nice to see a bistro, restaurant or coffee shop at the depot building. He said the town could synergize the economic potential of the train station neighborhood with the right context use of the property, where there are already successful restaurants.

According to the town’s master plan, the train station area holds considerable potential for additional retail and dining sector growth.

“A handful of limited and full service restaurants and service-oriented businesses are scattered throughout the station, but the area currently lacks a sense of place and the appropriate retail mix that appeal especially to commuters and visitors that arrive by train,” the Master Plans reads.

“Moreover, among the largest opportunities to create an identity around the station area is the station itself, where a historic train depot currently stands, but is vacant due to the building’s condition. The station could give the area an identity, particularly with an active use to draw customers to the area,” reads the plan.

Peter Kane, director of community development, said there was a previous effort to redevelop the property where the town sought proposals for utilizing the space.

The town issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) in 2005 for the building, which specified that the reuse would have to meet minimum criteria for interior renovations and routine maintenance.

The town only received one response to that RFP, which was a proposal for a dance studio. The applicant later withdrew her application, which had been approved by the town and MBTA.

Kane said the building’s last use was as a functioning train depot. He said the town previously zoned the property so that it was in the business district, with the intention of reuse. It’s not clear what repairs would be needed for the structure, or how much the cost would be, he added.

“We are certainly in discussions about what could happen,” Kane said. “We don’t have anything concrete to talk about other than we’re just evaluating.”

Hundreds of commuters pass by the Stick Style Railroad Depot on their way to and from the commuter rail. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 and as of 2014, the building and its surroundings have also been designated as the Swampscott Railroad Depot Local Historic District, according to the town’s Master Plan.

The structure is representative off stick style architecture, which was popular in the late 19th century. Swampscott’s Railroad Depot is a remnant of the Eastern Railroad, the first line to pass through the town and important to its rise in importance as a summer resort, according to the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

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