Historic commission recommends no exterior changes to depot

Alexander Sinn • Dec 4, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Changes are coming to the Grand Trunk Depot building in Grand Haven, but city leaders don’t agree on whether that should include the historic structure’s brick facade, doors and windows.

The Grand Haven Historic Conservation District Commission has recommended that the city make no changes to the exterior of the building at the west end of Washington Avenue. City Council requested the commission’s input after local firm Architektura presented four configurations for the depot in October, including plans for new doors and elongated windows.

The 19th-century train depot was used by the Tri-Cities Historical Museum until last year, when the city took over the site. The city is considering a public space and a vendor to rent a portion of the space. 

Marsha Peterson, who chairs the city’s historic commission, said retaining the building’s exterior would not impact interior alterations. While upgrades are needed, she said the designs should look like the originals, including wooden doors and windows that match the original panes.

The building’s seven existing doors are all ADA compliant, she added.

“We’ve lost an awful lot of historic buildings in the downtown area, and we’re trying to save them,” Peterson said. “We owe it to the community to do something that they would approve of.”

Making exterior changes could demote the building’s historical status, Peterson said, diminishing the availability of grants for improvements.

On Monday, City Councilmen Bob Monetza and Michael Fritz agreed the commission’s recommendations would not hinder development and future uses of the building.

“Not a single one of those proposals was dependent on exterior building changes,” Monetza noted.

Mayor Geri McCaleb said she doesn’t view the depot building and waterfront property as “sacred ground.” Lengthening windows would enhance views of “an amazing panorama of the longest river in Michigan,” she said.

“We’re looking out on the Grand River, and we’re going to look at it through postage stamp-size windows,” McCaleb said. “We’re going to take that fantastic view and we’re going to cut it into little pieces, and I think that’s a shame.”

Councilman Josh Brugger called for a middle ground on the issue, but said ensuring the building gets used is a priority.

“I don’t want it to gather dust and just sit there, as it has for the past two years,” he said.

The city has received numerous public comments since plans for the depot were first proposed, cautioning the city not to diminish its historical character.

The building’s format currently provides flex space of 2,300 square feet to allow for about 150 occupants, and a fixed vendor space of about 1,000 square feet.

City Manager Pat McGinnis said the city will work with the architect to pursue interior projects such as new heating and cooling, flooring, and electrical upgrades to prepare the building for public and business uses.

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