BELLOWS FALLS — The Rockingham Select Board on Tuesday gave the city the go-ahead to seek a federal “assignment” of $1.8 million to help fund the estimated $4 million Bellows Falls train station renovation.
The application, through the office of U.S. Representative Peter F. Welch, D-Vt., is reportedly seeking funding for one of 15 projects the U.S. House Appropriations Committee has awarded Welch. The Committee gave each member of Congress the power to propose up to 15 community projects for inclusion in fiscal year 2023 appropriation bills.
The Bellows Falls project would apply for a transit infrastructure grant from the Department of Transportation.
The city of Rockingham voted overwhelmingly last month to buy the station, with the city earmarking $75,000 towards the purchase price. The buy was approved on a 435-92 margin.
City officials said the appropriation would be the only local funding needed for the ambitious station project, which would involve not only improving the Amtrak station but also renovating the rest of the building to accommodate one or more new businesses.
One scenario outlined for city officials this winter would be to establish a small brewery at the resort, which is 100 years old. It replaced an old station that burned down.
Since the March 1 vote, the city has requested another state grant – a $200,000 Downtown Development Grant – to help pay for the purchase, as well as emergency repairs to the foundations of the station.
Cities must apply to Welch’s office for the grant or “assign” by April 18.
City Manager Scott Pickup said Wednesday the project would go ahead even if the city was unable to secure the $1.8 million federal grant through Welch’s office. He said the city is considering various grants and programs to improve the station and train service in Bellows Falls.
“We’re just going to keep looking at other sources,” Pickup said, including the state’s Community Development Block Grants. “It’s not a failure at this point,” he said.
Pickup told the Rockingham board Tuesday night that it was already working on a buy-and-sell agreement with Vermont Rail Systems to purchase the station, which sits on state-owned land. He said there was “back and forth” over the details of the deal. The purchase price was estimated at $235,000.
He said the goal was to prepare the purchase and sale agreement by June, with the purchase being finalized in July. The city estimated it would take about a year to secure enough federal and state grants for the estimated $4 million project.
Other sources of funding include historic preservation grants, as well as state and federal tax credits.
The city hopes to hear about the downtown grant later this month. The station’s overall construction schedule includes an April 2024 start date and May 2025 completion, according to Gary Fox, Rockingham’s development manager leading the project.