The Depot Could See New Management Soon

By KBJR News 1

May 7, 2012 Updated May 7, 2012 at 10:35 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - Ken Buehler, Executive Director of the nonprofit Historic Union Depot Corporation, says tradition is the Depot's biggest attraction: "...and that kind of storytelling, and preserving the past—and an oral history—is what makes this place so very special."

And Rob Karwath, of North Coast Communications, agrees.

"I think it's the most historically significant building in our community, and that's saying a lot, because there are a lot of other buildings that could vie for that title," says Karwath.

And, while both men recognize the significance of the building's history, it's their visions for the locale's future that differ. Buehler cites the successes thus far of the current management team, Oneida Realty, who took The Depot from bankruptcy in 2005 to arguably the most celebrated railroad museum in the nation.

"One of the things that the county wanted was the one provider, and Oneida stepped up and said, 'OK, we're going to be that one provider,' and, that does save the county some money, and that is new, and that is different," says Buehler.

But Karwath claims that the property management company—AtWater Group—has even bigger dreams for the location.

"We'd like this to become a destination: food, beverage, a little retail experience. There's really no downtown hub for bicyclists. Could the depot become that? Perhaps, it could," says Karwath.

A major issue that divides both parties is the subsidy, which currently costs taxpayers $158,000 annually to keep the Depot's doors open.

"It's a part of the quality of life that we've come to expect. One of the things that has to be done by government is to provide some quality of life," says Buehler.

Karwath, however, cites the potential dangers of relying on subsidies: "It's always dangerous when you're relying on a subsidy. That subsidy could go away, and we believe so strongly in what the depot does, and what the institutions here do, that we'd like to find a way to support that."

And, until tomorrow's vote, one thing is certain...both groups see the Depot as ripe with potential

"The Depot has been part of the Western downtown for over 100 years. I think it really is the key to unlocking the future here," says Karwath.

"Going from two events when we took over, to 50 to 60 events a month right now—if that's not good enough, I don't know what is," says Buehler.

Saint Louis County Commissioners are expected to vote on the proposals as early as tomorrow morning.