The company that wants to build two apartment towers and a parking deck on the site of Raleigh’s old Seaboard Station says it hopes to preserve much of the old train depot.
Turnbridge Equities initially planned to demolish the 80-year-old station, which has been home to Logan’s Garden Shop for the plast 30 years. The building has no local or national historic designations to indicate that it was important, said Jason Davis, managing director for Turnbridge.
“When we acquired the property, there was nothing that told us it was something that needed to be preserved,” Davis said in an interview.
But then Davis and others from the New York-based company began meeting with residents and local officials in advance of a rezoning request. It became clear that the old brick building and the 900-foot-long white wooden canopies that once shielded train passengers from sun and rain were beloved by many in Raleigh.
“Over that six-month process, we learned that while the station is not a historic landmark, it is important to a lot of people and it informs their memory of place,” Davis said.
Turnbridge Equities has since refined its plans to show the main part of the station moved about 200 feet to the north end of the property. Those drawings and site plan are what Raleigh Planning Commission members saw when they unanimously recommended the City Council rezone the property to allow buildings up to 20 stories.
But some who want to see the train station saved are still worried. That’s because the rezoning conditions say that if preserving the building is not “reasonably feasible, both financially and physically,” Turnbridge can demolish it, as long as the company documents what the station looks like now and uses columns, slate or other materials from it in the new development.
Matthew Brown, a preservation advocate who lives in nearby Oakwood, said the company’s drawings and site plan have falsely reassured people, including at least one City Council member he recently spoke with, that the fight is over.
“He thought, ‘Oh, well, they’ve fixed it. They’re going to save it, right?’ No, look at the fine print,” Brown said in an interview. “Because the last condition says if we don’t choose these other options, we’ll tear it down and just take pictures.”
Dana Deaton, who lives in Mordecai, helped form a group called Save Seaboard Station that hopes the rezoning conditions can be changed so Turnbridge won’t have the option of tearing the building down. The City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the zoning request for Sept. 6.
“There’s so much history being lost in Raleigh,” Deaton said in an interview. “And I think that train station is just a piece of Raleigh’s history that we don’t want to see lost.”
From train station to garden store
The Seaboard Air Line Railroad opened its new Raleigh station on Sept. 29, 1942. The railroad had decided to leave the aging Union Station downtown, where its trains had to back into the tracks along the passenger platforms, said Ian Dunn, an archivist at the State Archives of North Carolina.
Seaboard merged with rival Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1967 and after another series of mergers became today’s CSX.
Amtrak took over the company’s passenger trains in the early 1970s, including the Silver Star between New York and Florida that continued to stop at Seaboard Station. Then in 1986, CSX abandoned a section of track in southern Virginia, forcing Amtrak to re-route the Silver Star and start using the old Southern Railway depot off Cabarrus Street.
Seaboard Station had been vacant and deteriorating for several years when Robert Logan Jr. began looking for a new home for his garden shop. Logan had been at the old state farmer’s market on Hodges Street but didn’t want to move to the south side of town when the new market opened off Lake Wheeler Road in 1991.
“I could see my stuff under these canopies,” Logan told The News & Observer as contractors worked to fix up the station that year. “It was open air but covered. And it had charm.”
Logan said he spent more “recycling” the building than he did buying it. The leaking roof was replaced, as were rotting rafters and trusses in the building and in the canopies under which Logan’s customers browse through plants, pots and other garden accessories.
Seaboard Station could have qualified for the National Register of Historic Places or become a Raleigh Historic Landmark, says Myrick Howard, executive director of Preservation North Carolina, an advocacy group. But a property’s owner must support those designations, and despite coaxing from the Raleigh Historic Development Commission, the Logan family wasn’t interested, Howard said.
“Definitely important; would have been on the National Register years ago if the owner had not objected to that,” he said. “It would have been a locally designated landmark years ago.”
Logan’s did not respond to a request for comment.
A place on the National Register is largely honorary, but local landmark status prevents a building’s owner from making major changes. (Wakestone, the former home of Josephus Daniels and a National Historic Landmark in Raleigh, was demolished last year after the Historic Development Commission voted to rescind its local landmark status because of Daniels’ racism.)
Without any historical restrictions, Logan’s was able to sell Seaboard Station and its narrow 2.9-acre lot to Turnbridge for its full development value: $8.5 million. Davis, the Turnbridge managing director, said the garden store will have a couple of years to find a new location before the company begins construction.
Turnbridge doesn’t own one of the train canopies
Turnbridge’s conceptual site drawings show the long train canopy closest to the railroad tracks remaining along with the new buildings. That’s because Turnbridge doesn’t own that canopy, Davis said. It sits on property controlled by CSX.
“There’s a license agreement that exists between Logan’s and CSX to permit the use of it,” he said. “And we’ll work with CSX see if we can continue the use of it.”
The second canopy, closest to Semart Avenue, would be demolished, except for about 100 feet at either end. Those would be incorporated into plazas where Turnbridge can’t build because of utility easements.
The main part of the train depot, with the side-by-side porticoes that once led to segregated waiting rooms and ticket counters, would be moved to the far end of the northern plaza. The old baggage wing would be demolished, in part because it sits on a slab foundation that would make it difficult to move, Davis said.
Though the company would retain the option to demolish the entire building, Davis said so far it appears it should be able to carry out its latest site plan.
“There’s nothing that we’ve seen that says that relocating it is not feasible at this point, but there’s obviously a lot of study that has to go on,” he said. “We would be disappointed if we weren’t able to carry out a plan like you see here.”
Preservationists want the City Council to enforce that site plan as a condition for rezoning the property. Several council members have said they would like to see the building preserved as part of the redevelopment.
Among them is at-large council member Jonathan Melton. But Melton cautions that Turnbridge could build 7-story buildings with the existing zoning, which would take away the city’s leverage to require that Seaboard Station be preserved.
“If they’re asking for additional height, I think a good trade off is preserving some of the train station,” Melton said. “But you know, if this rezoning doesn’t go through, they could knock it down anyway. And so I think we have to be careful about that.”
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