AMHERST – It appears as though the final hurdle standing in the redevelopment of the historic Amherst train station has been cleared.
Amherst Mayor David Kogon confirmed Tuesday that the town has reached agreement with Via Rail to transfer ownership of the 109-year-old building to the town and eventually to businessman Jeff Bembridge.
“When Via heard of our concerns through our press release they were quick to express their concerns and have moved very quickly to reach an agreement with us that is acceptable to both sides,” Kogon told the Amherst News. “I’m very pleased with Via’s response to our concerns that this was dragging on too long and I can’t say enough about how they have responded.”
Kogon said there is still some legal work to be done, but he expects the deal will close by March 1 and the town will assume ownership of the building.
Via Rail spokeswoman Mylene Belanger said the rail company has completed its review of the documents and returned them to the town.
“We will follow up with them over the coming days to ensure we can complete the process as soon as possible,” Belanger said in an email.
While disappointed it took so long to finalize the deal, the mayor said he’s happy the way has been cleared for Bembridge to proceed with plans to redevelop the train station into the new home of Bambino’s Pizzeria and a family restaurant.
For his part, Bembridge is cautiously optimistic that he’s finally reaching the light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s good to hear but I’ve been down this road before. I’m happy but I’ll be happier when I have the keys in my hand,” Bembridge said later.
Last week, the town issued a press release expressing its frustrations with Via Rail for dragging its feet on the project. Kogon said he was afraid a proposal that would save the historic property was slipping away.
The train station has been in limbo since 2012 when Via Rail closed it as part of a restructuring effort that saw a reduction in rail service in the region. It has sat vacant for several years.
Amherst entered into an agreement with Bembridge and the rail company in December 2015 under which the town agreed to replace the Railway Heritage designation with a Municipal Heritage Property designation and agreed to rent a portion of the station back to Via Rail so its passengers would have a waiting room and access to washrooms as well as space for technology it needed for its railway operations.
Via Rail also approved the five-year, lease-to-purchase agreement the town has with Bembridge in which he would rent the building for five years and assume ownership after that period.
The station was declared a Municipal Heritage Property last March while in August the Privy Council Office approved the sale in July. Parks Canada gave its approval in November, but then things went quiet until both Bembridge and the town went public last week.