Maryland's Housing and Community Development Secretary wants Aberdeen's historic B&O Railroad station building to be moved to Festival Park, as part of the ongoing efforts to revitalize the city's downtown.
Kenneth Holt, secretary of Housing and Community Development, told the Aberdeen mayor and city council last week that the state looks forward to investing in the city but said the station is not much use in its current site, along the CSX tracks at West Bel Air Avenue.
"I believe it's the only train station that exists along that line that was built in the 1880s," Holt said about the architecturally significant, Frank Furness designed building, which has not served passengers since 1958 and has slid into disrepair.
The Historical Society of Harford County obtained grants to move the building back from the railroad tracks in 2014, but it still sits near its original location awaiting future renovation by the society, which eventually intends to turn it over to The Aberdeen Room Archives and Museum.
Renovation is highly dependent on grants becoming available, however, and Holt's department is the main clearinghouse for community revitalization projects in the state.
Speaking during the Sept. 19 city council meeting, Holt said "there is significant potential for destination tourism" if the station building were moved closer to Route 40. Festival Park is part of the transit-oriented development plan that Aberdeen has been working on together with the state in hopes of revitalizing the downtown area around the MARC train station off Route 40.
Holt said the state is also interested in supporting redevelopment of the historic former Aberdeen High School building along Route 40, which backs up to Festival Park and is going to be turned over to the city by Harford County.
A relocated B&O station, along with Festival Park and the old high school building, could be an attractive center "for the citizens to gather," Holt said.
"The state of Maryland and Department of Housing and Community Development are very interested in financially supporting a relocation of that train station, a significant plan to rehabilitate the school and to sort of focus on Festival Park for the kind of creative center of Aberdeen and Harford County," Holt said. "We are very, very interested in making that dream a reality."
Holt attended the council meeting at the request of city Planning and Community Development Director Phyllis Grover, City Manager Randy Robertson and Mayor Patrick McGrady.
"This government and this department is going to invest in you, a significant amount of money," Holt said.
Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck asked if he knew how much it may cost to move it. Holt was not sure but estimated it would be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Landbeck said she has seen similar moves done in other places "and it's outstanding, but it comes at a huge price that we would have to know" before committing to such a project.
Landbeck also asked who would determine the use for the relocated station. Holt replied it would be useful for an urban planner to conceive the whole Festival Park renovation and repurposing of the high school, and noted it would be a public-private partnership.
"I think it's a very thoughtful and generous offer to the council," McGrady said. "I think the council is going to have to learn more before we make a commitment one way or the other."
Richard Herbig of the Historical Society of Harford County, said it may make sense for The Aberdeen Room to move into the renovated station, even though museum leaders have said it would not feasible because of the building's relatively small size compared to the museum's collection.
Herbig also suggested the state focus more resources on the high school building, which could be "a tremendous asset to the city" as a mixed-use development, possibly a post office.
Another move of the B&O Station, he said, "would be very, very expensive, and I am not sure if the station, built in 1885, would withstand another move."
The station was moved about 50 feet from the tracks in December 2014, at the request of CSX Railroad, the B&O's successor, that no longer had any use for the building.
The cost for that move was between $50,000 and $80,000, Maryanna Skowronski, of the Historical Society of Harford County, estimated Wednesday.
She noted that nothing can be done with the building unless the Maryland Historical Trust approves it.