Archived Story

Study estimates benefit to Niles from having depot at $5 million

Published 10:07am Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dowagiac Daily News

Dowagiac’s historic train depot is garnering national notice, station host Ron Leatz reported to Dowagiac City Council Monday night.

Dec. 18 Amtrak illustrated its seasons greetings with five U.S. railroad stations, including Dowagiac’s.

“We went nationwide just before Christmas,” Leatz said.

Next, Leatz drew attention to the winter 2010 issue of The Michigan Passenger, a quarterly newspaper reporting passenger rail news since 1973 that is published by the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers Inc. (MARP).

The dominant photo published with Editor J.R. Valderas’ Dowagiac-datelined report on the statewide celebration Oct. 21, 2009, of the 35th anniversary of the Blue Water shore-to-shore line shows the “crowded platform” for the arrival of the Chicago-to-Port Huron train.

“We had the largest turnout of any station on the Michigan line,” said Leatz, who organized the local commemoration with Vickie Phillipson, Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Development Authority program director.

The program included remarks by City Manager Kevin Anderson, The Museum at Southwestern Michigan College Director Steve Arseneau and Dowagiac Mayor Don Lyons, who presented a proclamation to Tim Hoeffner of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

On another page, the Workin’ on the Railroad color photo highlights milepost 177 in Dowagiac on Dec. 1, 2009.

Leatz belongs to MARP, which also publicized Dowagiac and Niles in its fall 2009 edition.

There was a story and color photo on Rosetta’s Cheetahs on the Run – “trackside sculpture leaps along Amtrak tracks” – racing Wolverine train 351.

Valderas wrote about the “remarkable odds” that the Niles Michigan Central station received a new larger historical marker to replace one from 1993 as part of Joseph Weiser’s Eagle Scout project through Troop 555 of Huntly Baptist Church.

Built in 1892, Niles’ depot is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has starred in such movies as “Continental Divide,” “Midnight Run” and “Only the Lonely.”
Weiser spent two years raising $3,425 for the large informative marker installed Aug. 3 and dedicated Aug. 9,  2009, with the Boy Scout receiving a key to the city.

Each side tells a story.

Facing the parking lot is the story of the Richardsonian Romanesque-style depot itself. The Ohio sandstone was meant to impress passengers traveling to the 1893 Columbian Exposition. It replaced a ramshackle structure that the Niles Daily Star dissed as “the old cockroach repository.”

Grounds featured a pond and gardens designed by German immigrant John Gipner, who presented roses grown at the station to women arriving in Niles.

The side facing the garden tended by the Niles Four Flags club, tells about Michigan Central Railroad and its Oct. 2, 1848, arrival to usher in “an era of prosperity.”

Freight operations had been transferred to Elkhart, Ind., in 1958.

Leatz also pointed out Chairman John DeLora’s column, “Stations benefit communities,” on a study done for Grand Valley State University which quantified that local towns receive by having an active train station.

The cities with the most service reap the most benefits.

The study looked at 22 Michigan stations along all three routes serving the state, which assisted Amtrak last year with $7.1 million to provide service on the Pere Marquette and Blue Water routes.

Amtrak spends $13.6 million in Michigan.

DeLora called Niles “a big winner,” with “nearly $5 million in benefits for a city of fairly modest size.”

Albion lost its Wolverine stop, Leatz said. “Their ridership wasn’t where it should have been, so now it goes right through town. The bad part about that is we had 3,000 people in 2008 get on the train here, and 2,500 in 2009. (Dowagiac) has the lowest activity of any station in Michigan. They would love to eliminate this stop to gain 15 minutes on the schedule. We have got to support Amtrak.”

The depot behind City Hall is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and, on weekends and holidays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“Sunday we had eight people down there who sat in their car” because they didn’t realize the station was open.

“People are starting to realize what we have,” said Leatz, who touts the train as an easy way to travel to the Pokagon Band’s casino at Four Winds Resort in New Buffalo.
Leatz also announced he’s looking for a sponsor “to print some envelopes and put lights on the depot at Christmas time, from mid-November until New Year’s.

“Not at any cost to the city, but people would put a dollar, $5, $10, $20, whatever, in the envelope. The people would put lights on the station.”

Mayor Lyons thanked Leatz for “promoting Dowagiac through Amtrak.”

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