From The Allegan County News:
The engineering and architecture firm that designed Fennville’s new streetscape now hopes to pitch the idea of a new downtown train station to Amtrak officials later this month.
Tony McGhee is the business development director for the firm Abonmarche and said the city could seek a variety of grants to fund what his firm has estimated at $350,000 in total project costs.
The preliminary design puts the project just south of M-89 on the west side of the tracks. It would convert the Downtown Development Authority’s building (formerly the Short Stop) at 220 Main St. into the station and public restrooms and lay in a sidewalk that crosses West Fennville Street to a 300-foot platform on the west side of the tracks. The state’s 23rd station would be part of Amtrak’s Pere Marquette line.
Even without grants, McGhee said the project could likely be funded through a low-interest loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture; a 40-year loan at 3.5 percent interest would run the city approximately $1,500 per month.
“We’re looking for funds now,” he said. “The MEDC is very interested in this project because of the whole Pure Michigan push. We’re going to see if there are any (community development) block grant funds. We also think it’s possible to get (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program) funds because (public transit like this) reduces emissions.”
He presented the idea to Allegan County commissioners Feb. 23, and they unanimously passed a resolution in support of it.
He told them the Michigan Department of Transportation has approved Fennville’s request to establish the station.
“Next is a profit-loss analysis, undertaken by Amtrak,” McGhee said. “We’re going to meet with Amtrak in a few weeks and we’re confident there will be no problem.
McGhee said, “One of the main drivers of this is that this is a destination for a lot of people both on vacations and visiting second homes.”
He said 29.3 percent of all housing in the lakeshore area around Saugatuck and Douglas was non-homestead housing-with many from the Chicago area, where the Amtrak line originates. Providing those owners with easier access to the area means they would spend more time and more of their money there.
He said Allegan County was seventh statewide in the number of times visitors to the state’s Pure Michigan campaign website clicked through to local websites.
“Traverse City was number 1, but of the communities above Allegan County on the list, they spend more than $150,000 to advertise themselves,” McGhee said. “He said the county gets traffic organically, without even trying.
“That tells you that there’s a natural interest in this area.”
He estimated, based on Amtrak data, that 40,000 visitors annually disembarked at the Holland station.
“We’re assuming some portion of them are getting off there and going down (into the county),” McGhee said.
He said a Fennville station would provide easier access into and out of the area.
“It will be a nice jump-off spot for people to get off the train here and go to other places in town and on the lakeshore,” McGhee said.
Later, he pointed out that an arrangement with public transit could be arranged to provide access to the Saugatuck and Douglas area.
“It’s also a great way for our residents to be able to go places (outside the county) and see things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.”
He said there have been two train stations in Fennville in the past.
He said Amtrak has not as yet expressed any concerns regarding the close proximity a station in Fennville would have to the station in Bangor.
McGhee said he expected to know whether or not Amtrak supported the project within approximately 60 days of their meeting this month.
The next step would be to obtain permission from freight-shipper and track owner CSX to build the station on its right of way.
“That’s the wild card in this,” McGhee said.
As Abonmarche has worked on other rail projects and with CSX in the past, he estimated the process of negotiating with the company at four to six months. Abonmarche redesigned a station in St. Joseph several years ago and helped research the feasibility for another in Benton Harbor.
“Once you’re past that, all the rest can go pretty quickly,” he said.
He estimated it would take six to eight months to finish out the rest of the details of the project and build the station.
Allegan County Commissioner Terry Burns said the station was a great opportunity.
“I commend the DDA for their foresight,” he said. “And our transportation director Dan Wedge supports this.”
Commissioner Steve McNeal said “Tourism is our number two industry. Anything we can do to increase tourism is very welcome, especially since it doesn’t cost us any money.”