Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Union Station: Model-train club packs up, new-home option isn't free

On Saturday, while thousands of freeloaders hopped on board the new West Line to ride light rail from downtown to Golden and back, members of the Platte Valley & Western Model Railroad club gathered in the dark basement of the shuttered Union Station and started dismantling the layout they'd initially constructed there three decades ago, a model railroad designed to commemorate the heyday of railroading in the '50s, when people really would "Travel by Train" -- not just across town, but across the country.

But this club has definitely reached the end of the least in Union Station, the Denver landmark that's being redeveloped as not just a multi-modal transportation hub, but a hotel.

Both of the two developers vying to get the Union Station contract had initially promised to let both the PV&W and a second, larger layout, this one started by the Denver Society of Model Railroaders Club almost eighty years ago, stay in the station. Although that meant that the clubs would have to cancel their public open houses for close to two years, they were willing to wait because when the station reopened in the summer of 2014, a whole new audience might discover them. And besides, where else could they go that would provide the same historic setting...for free?

But this month, members of the PV&W learned their layout would have to go, and go soon. And while members of the DSMRC are hopeful that they'll be allowed to stay at Union Station, it doesn't look promising.

Here's an April 24 update on the release that the Union Station Alliance, the developer that got the contract in December 2011, had originally sent me a week ago, when I first asked about the fate of the two model railroad layouts:

As with the renovation of any historic building, there is a time in a renovation when removing hazardous materials and environmental abatement work must begin. This work will allow the building to be renovated to current building code and current life safety standards. As we begin this process, we must remove all items from the basement storage area in order to allow this work to be done. In addition to the abatement work, we will be installing new mechanical systems in the basement of Union Station. The basement of Union Station has been home to two model train clubs for many years.

In an effort to renovate the building and to create a safe environment for future patrons, we must ask these train clubs to move from the building. In an effort to show our ongoing support of the model train clubs, we are working with the clubs to find acceptable space for the storage and potential permanent exhibition space. The HO Club has already been provided with free storage space for their model trains until a permanent location is secured. Also, for permanent exhibition space, we have offered the basement of the Sage Building on 16th & Welton downtown.

As a means of celebrating of our city's heritage, Union Station Alliance is sponsoring the History Colorado Center's upcoming All Aboard Colorado exhibit. Opening in June, this exhibit is a tribute to train travel and will showcase two different model trains for two local clubs: The Platte Valley & Western Model Railroad Club and the Colorado & Great Western Model Railroad Club. We hope that everyone will visit this exhibit and join us in our excitement as we look to opening the historic Union Station train station in 2014.

And on Thursday, Phillip Washington, general manager of RTD, whose board awarded the Union Station contract to the Union Station Alliance, sent this update to the PV&W group:
As I stated in my e-mail to you on Monday, it has been the Regional Transportation District's (RTD) and the Union Station Alliance's (USA) ongoing interest in trying to find a workable solution for having the model railroad clubs remain in the basement of the redeveloped Denver Union Station. Since even then, however, it's been brought to our attention that there doesn't appear to be enough space following construction for either to return and feasibly operate as you both do now. As you also know, RTD's master lease with USA provides them the authority to both responsibly redevelop the entire building to finish out their plans for the hotel and other associated amenities as well as to meet local code and National Park Service oversight requirements which have, in part, limited your re-use options to a greater extent than originally anticipated. We understand that USA remains interested in attempting to find a suitable offsite location at this point and we continue to encourage you to work with them to find a solution that best represents all of our interests in having the clubs not only maintain your efforts but also allows the public a continued opportunity to enjoy them as well.
Despite the fact that both statements suggest that the DSMRC will have to move its 6,500 square foot layout, too, the club has yet hear from anyone officially. "We have never received any direct communication from the Union Station Alliance," Hugh Blaney, the group's president, told me Friday. "We made it very clear that this layout is not and cannot be moved. It's not designed to be moved."

And even if it could be moved, where would it go? One foundation has stepped forward to give the clubs $25,000 to facilitate their moves, but at this point neither club seems to be seriously considering the basement of the Sage building, the former Fontius building on the 16th Street Mall; that space wouldn't be free, and parking is in short supply in that part of downtown. Still, time is running short -- the PV&W must be out within the month -- and this train is about to leave the station.

From the Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Union Station gives beloved model train layout the boot."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun