Originally created 05/24/04

Plans to renovate historic station stalled



MACON, Ga. -- Macon is in danger of losing more than $885,000 in federal money to renovate a train station that served as the main hub in two world wars for transporting troops and was projected to link the city with the state's planned commuter rail.

City officials planned to use city bond money and federal grants to redevelop Terminal Station.

But planning delays, cash-flow problems and revolving-door management have stalled those efforts, The Macon Telegraph reported Sunday.

The potential loss of federal funds stems from a Sept. 30 deadline to provide state and federal officials a plan of how the money will be used to redevelop the station.

The state has rejected the first four drafts of a plan produced by a financial consultant who was hired by Mayor Jack Ellis and does not appear to have previous transportation or development planning experience, the newspaper reported.

State officials say that Macon officials have not provided them basic information such as the number of square feet in the building, the cost of renovations or how the project would make space for both bus and rail service.

In addition, only $49,114.91 out of $1.1 million in bond money set aside to match federal grants for the project remains as of early May. Some of the bond money has been spent for purposes other than those listed in official bond documents, which bond experts warn could be illegal, the newspaper reported.

"This might be the final thing that sends the city of Macon into an unreversable situation, with the losses in revenue coupled with the bond debt service, which we obviously can't afford," said councilman Stebin Horne.

Ellis declined interview requests.

Built in 1916, Terminal Station was a part of the state's passenger rail system until 1971, when it closed. City officials bought the old train depot from Georgia Power in 2002, using $1.6 million in grant money from the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration. The station was touted as a possible gateway to middle and south Georgia, with the state's passenger rail fanning out from Macon to other cities.

Congress has appropriated $4.3 million for the project since fiscal year 2002, requiring that the money be used within three fiscal years - Sept. 30 - or be forfeited. To get the money, federal and state officials must approve a development plan. The city then must perform an environmental assessment and receive approval from the federal highway and transit administrations and the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Ellis has asked U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall of Macon to seek an extension for the deadline. Marshall has said he would look into it. State Transportation Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl said a high priority project might receive an extension but this is just a regular grant.

It may already be too late to produce the plan in time, said Steve Kish, transit program manager for the Georgia Department of Transportation's Office of Intermodal Programs.

The documents probably need to be approved by late July because the federal transit administration often quits cutting checks for the fiscal year at that time to begin its auditing and financial summaries, state officials said.

"We've met, and we've met, and we've met," Kish said. "The information is continuously provided to the city of Macon, and it just - nothing happens. And time's running out."