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All aboard the express to construction junction

The 1912 railroad depot is dilapidated and decaying at the foot of Meridian Avenue. Bricks tumble from the walls, paint peels from the eaves and the rough-hewn planks of the platform are silver and splitting with age.

But soon the Dade City Commission hopes to turn the crumbling relic into the jewel of downtown historic preservation. On Tuesday, commissioners voted unanimously to take over the building from CSX Transportation and restore it.

"The depot is the unofficial gateway to Dade City," said Doug Sanders, a city staffer who worked on the project. "It's like putting up a new sign that says, "Welcome to Dade City.' "

Dade City is the only passenger station between Lakeland and Wildwood, which means more than 5,000 people a year stop on their way to Miami or points north, Sanders said. Passengers can wait hours in the heat and cold with nothing but a park bench to sit on.

Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper and other supporters told the commission it's a shame for visitors to see the shabby condition of the depot, particularly since so much of downtown has been restored and improved.

"No one would ever guess (Dade City) is the charming city that it is," Tepper told the commission.

The depot was built in 1912 by the Atlantic Coastline Railroad for passenger and freight lines. It was unused as a station for 22 years, until Amtrak began passenger service again in 1990.

"It's typical of railway stations of that period. Being of brick, it's a little more substantial," said William Dayton, chairman of the Dade City Historic Preservation Board.

City Manager Ben Bolan warned the commission that accepting responsibility for the aging building could be costly. Because CSX will retain the land beneath the depot, there is a chance the city will be forced to move the building. Bringing it up to code and liability for accidents could be expensive, even though the building was donated, he said.

The estimate for repairing the roof, platform and gutters and cleaning the bricks is $64,100, he said.

But for the four commissioners present and other community leaders, it was worth the risk.

"I think we may have to bite the bullet if we care about this," Chairman Charles McIntosh Jr. said.

Ed Crone, executive director of Downtown Dade City Main Street, said the cost to the city could be offset by grants, in-kind contributions and donated labor.

And Commissioner Scott Black said he wasn't concerned about having to move the depot: "I think that building will be there till Gabriel blows his horn."

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