AMHERST – Ryan Beattie talks to his customers. He owns Hairstyles by Ryan, so it’s no surprise, in his line of work, opinions would be shared and views expressed.
Beattie thinks the community consensus is the train station should be occupied and used;
“The community loves it just as much as it ever did,” said the business owner whose shop has been located at the station for two years.
Via announced last fall it would stop maintaining a presence at the station. Passengers can still board or debark in Amherst, but there are no services and no ticket agent. The heritage building – one of about 60, according to sources – is for all intents and purposes surplus.
Via has been contacted. A spokesperson for the crown corporation, Mylene Belanger, said deciding the fate of the structure involves a rigorous process guided by heritage restrictions.
“All avenues are under consideration,” said Belanger.
Roger McIsaac thinks Via’s considering all their options.
Amherst’s director of community and economic development doesn’t find the delay in decisions surprising or excessively long.
“I think it’s still early days,” he said.
McIsaac said the federal government – Via is a crown corporation – has its own processes and municipalities don’t enter the equation until a later stage. He anticipates hearing from Via eventually.
“We would certainly like to know what their intentions are,” he said.
The mayor of Amherst, Rob Small, said what he’d like to see happen probably won’t: he’d like station service restored to Amherst. But given the unlikelihood of that occurring, his preference would be for private businesses to occupy the building.
David Mosley isn’t ready to accept defeat when it comes to train stops in Amherst. The president of the Amherst and Area Chamber of Commerce wants the station and rail beds preserved – “They should not be allowed to unload it.” – for the possibility of a future, high speed rail service.
The president said lots of nations are building high-speed rail while Canada is destroying its rail services. He said instead of investing money into deals to entice businesses to the area – buying jobs – red tape should be cut and investments made into infrastructure that will attract businesses and stimulate the economy.
“The deficit will look after itself when you put people back to work,” said Mosley.
The member of parliament for Cumberland-Colchester-Musuodoboit Valley, Scott Armstrong, said he and his provincial counterpart, Brian Skabar, have been keeping watch on the situation.
“They can’t sell it to (just) anyone,” he said.
Armstrong said the building’s heritage status places restraints on what can be done with the property, and it needs to be offered to governments before it can be sold to private parties. He’s not aware of an offer by Via to the other levels of government.
The MP hopes for a resolution soon. Armstrong said he had no knowledge of any governmental hurdle log-jamming Via’s decision-making process.
Beattie isn’t critical of his landlord, Via.
“They made a corporate decision,” he said, a decision forced by government cuts to the crown corporation.
The hair stylist is optimistic there will be a resolution involving different partners, among them private businesses. He said he’s had good conversations with the town.
“They really want to work with me…,” he said.
The business owner envisions a prominent place in the future for a building he said was a community hub in the past.
“The interest is there,” said Beattie.