Depot Renovation to Mark Start of Economic Projects

Article excerpt

Journal Record Staff Reporter

Renovation of the historic Santa Fe Depot in Guthrie early next year will mark the beginning of two significant economic developments in central Oklahoma.

First project for which the depot is the linchpin is the Central Oklahoma Development Effort, commonly called CODE-1, which unites seven communities in a regional tourism and economic development effort.

An excursion train, pulled by a restored steam locomotive, is expected to make its first run as part of CODE-1 by the spring. The depot needs to be ready for that event.

The other major project for which the depot will be the initial activity will be Guthrie's 10-year development plan, which was completed in June.

While enhancement of the tourism industry in Guthrie is one of the major portions of that plan, it also calls for improving education, enhancing retail and industry activities in Guthrie and making further strides in economic development.

The development plan and CODE-1 are not necessarily connected, but one has led to the other. The only questions are which came first and which will get under way first.

"We got started on the 10-year plan about a year ago after residents came to us and said they were interested in CODE-1 and wanted to do more," said Rene Spineto, president and chief executive officer of Guthrie Chamber of Commerce. "This plan is a real grassroots effort. After we got started, all sorts of community groups came to us with projects and ideas they wanted done and suggested they be included in our plan.

"What we did was refer them to one of the 10 committees and ask them to work with the committee so we could have a better plan.

"This plan was done with about 3,000 volunteer labor hours involving at least 250 people. It's a real grassroots effort."

CODE-1, though, is an extension of an effort begun by the Logan County Economic Development Council in late 1992 when it applied for a federal transportation enhancement grant for a rolling theme park.

Central to that was to be the depot renovation and excursion train into a transportation-related theme park, at that time called the nation's first rolling theme park. Plans escalated until now Kingfisher, Enid, El Reno, Yukon, Edmond and Oklahoma City have joined the regional effort to attract tourism and economic development.

While the excursion train can run without renovation of the depot, it would be nice to have the work done before the train rides start, said Marilyn Branch, director of the Logan County Economic Development Council.

Along with renovation of the depot, the city's Tannery District, a grouping of historic buildings which have been tied up in bankruptcy for several years, also is expected to start early next year.

"We'll get a release on those buildings early next month (September) so individuals can buy them and put in individual businesses," Branch said.

Renovation of the Tannery District is not tied to CODE-1, but that effort provided impetus for it, Branch said.

"People are optimistic; they see how important tourism is and they are willing to be a part of it," she said. "This renovation is more than just the CODE-1 effort."

When the depot and tannery are renovated, Guthrie will have three theaters featuring live entertainment, five bed and breakfast inns with at least two other buildings being considered for remodeling into inns, five museums, art galleries, artists' studios and at least 30 apartments in the downtown district. …