After long months of communicating, negotiating, and waiting, the city of Bingen and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway have reached an agreement regarding the purchase of Depot Street.
City ownership of the road, which runs east-west along the railroad tracks across from SDS Lumber Co. and behind the buildings on the south side of the main downtown business district, has long been considered critical to Bingen's downtown revitalization efforts.
"For all practical purposes, it's a done deal," said Mayor Brian Prigel. "I'm confident enough that we can let the utility companies know they can complete engineering back there."
A preliminary real estate purchase and sale agreement puts the price at $56,000. City officials said that is less than they expected to pay for the property.
"Based on a previous appraisal by SDS Lumber, it's a little bit less," said Prigel.
The portion of Depot Road Bingen is purchasing runs between Walnut Street and a bit east of Maple Street. The corridor involved in the purchase extends 50 feet out from the backs of the buildings to the south.
The road segment totals roughly 1.95 acres.
"It's a good deal for the vision," said Laura Mann, a member of the Bingen City Council.
Preliminary projections for the strip of road calls for major enhancements to Depot Street. Planning for implementing the alterations to the area is expected to begin by the end of the year.
The road provides access to Bingen's Amtrak depot, a BNSF maintenance office, and to several businesses, including the Guler Oil card-lock gas station. The area is also currently used for parking.
The card-lock station is situated in the middle of Depot Street, and does not fit with long-range plans for the area. However, Mayor Prigel said the city is likely to sign a lease agreement to allow Guler Oil time -- perhaps as long as 10 years -- to move the card-lock facility.
Prigel added that he would be meeting with all the building owners along Steuben Street to deal with possible impacts from relocation of utilities and other improvements that are envisioned as part of the city's overall revitalization objectives.
As part of the proposed purchase agreement with the railroad, the city of Bingen could be responsible for cleaning any environmental hazards on the property. However, Mayor Prigel said he did not believe that clause represented a significant impediment to signing the deal.
"Some of the language is somewhat onerous, but I'm not too concerned about that. This is pretty standard contract language," Prigel said.
On March 19, Prigel asked the City Council to authorize signing the preliminary agreement, contingent upon the city's attorney reviewing and approving the deal.
"We need to get on with the purchase," Prigel said. "Utility companies are waiting to see what happens with this before they go ahead and plan engineering back there. I'd like the council's authorization to go ahead and sign this."
The council unanimously agreed to authorize the deal, provided the attorney found no problems.
On March 25, the attorney, Anthony Connors, completed his review of the agreement and found it acceptable to the city. The agreement was mailed to BNSF officials the same day.
Initial changes to Depot Street will be relatively minor: landscaping, paving, putting in striping for parking areas, providing better lighting, moving some utility wires underground, and cleaning up the roadway area in general.
Other changes, possibly including major renovation of the character of the area and providing retail and commercial storefronts, could come in subsequent years.
Later this year, the Washington Department of Transportation is expected to pave and upgrade State Route 14 through the downtown area, and city leaders want to coordinate some enhancements along Depot Street -- such as relocation of utility wires -- during that project to save money.