December 21, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria mayor says rail depot key to city’s growth

Mayor Holly Brinda gives her state of the city address before guests and members of the Elyria Rotary Club. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

Mayor Holly Brinda gives her state of the city address before guests and members of the Elyria Rotary Club. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — In touting Elyria’s best future, Mayor Holly Brinda said Tuesday afternoon that she would like an Amtrak train to run right through it.

Returning passenger rail service to the city, most notably to the county-owned renovated old train depot known as the Lorain County Transportation Center, could jump-start redevelopment in downtown Elyria, Brinda said.

The city needs financial backing to pull that off, however, she said.

“We need a catalytic change to jump-start downtown revitalization, and I think this has the power to do it,” she said.

It is no secret Brinda, who delivered her third State of the City address to a packed room at Wesleyan Village during a joint meeting of the Elyria Rotary and Lorain County Chamber of Commerce, wants to see passenger rail service return to downtown Elyria. She has written letters to railroad bigwigs — Amtrak and Norfolk Southern — and attended numerous meetings along the Lake Erie coast gleaning every bit of information she can about how to get it done.

This, even though problems are aplenty for the venture, including how to improve the passenger platforms.

Brinda’s most recent approach includes working with the Board of Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities and the All Aboard Ohio Initiative, which are trying to push for communities from Toledo to Cleveland to work together to improve the passenger rail corridor. With a new pot of federal dollars — $30 million to $50 million — being made available this spring, Brinda said Elyria is hoping to receive funds to rebuild the passenger rail platforms at the transportation center, the missing piece that could possibly convince Amtrak to begin using the station.

Brinda wants the city and the county to jointly apply for the money. She believes the more support she can demonstrate, the better chance the Elyria project has to receive funding.

“We are not the only ones who see great potential in this project,” she said. “I believe we have a better chance applying as a corridor instead of as an individual city or municipality.”

Lorain County Commissioner Ted Kalo agreed the project is worth pursuing. The federal money comes from other projects around the country that never got off the ground and had to return federal dollars.

“It’s a matter of getting all the counties together to submit the application,” he said. “I think this is a worthwhile project to pursue. We have the train station there and we have been working with Norfolk Southern for years to get access to those tracks.”

Kalo said Elyria and the county will likely have to work out a local match for whatever comes to Lorain County. Credits from the Ohio Turnpike are an option for financing, but details have not been worked out.

Brinda said the project could cost $5 million to $9 million.

She said the activity of the four train stations in northern Ohio — Toledo, Sandusky, Elyria and Cleveland — stood out to her. But Elyria’s ridership has taken the most remarkable jump, increasing by 91 percent since 2008.

“And that was without even trying,” Brinda said.

Brinda said foot traffic from rail passengers so close to downtown could boost shops, restaurants and small hotels.

Councilman Marcus Madison, D-5th Ward, was the only Council person to attend the meeting. His ward now encompasses the downtown area.

“What we heard were a lot of really good pieces and parts to an overall strategy of moving our city and downtown forward,” he said. “Council is also going to have to pinpoint how they hope to build up the downtown area, but I don’t think there is one silver bullet. Our only silver bullet will be when we put people back to work and expand jobs in our community.”

Kalo said passenger rail service couldn’t hurt development.

“There are a lot of components that must work together from small business development to education to public transit to spur growth,” he said.

OTHER POINTS FROM THE SPEECH

  • By implementing recommendations from the performance audit conducted by the state auditor’s office, Elyria saw $860,624 in savings since May 2013.
  • The city is working with businesses in the Midway Mall area to establish a Midway Merchant’s Association.
  • The former Alzedo Restaurant building on Midway Boulevard is set to be demolished this year. The property owner is paying to raze the building.
  • A citywide block watch meeting in May will make more residents aware of the program.
  • A second Building Better Neighborhoods initiative will take place this summer.
  • The East Falls River Walk will reopen to pedestrians in early spring.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.