The Bedford Depot was originally built in 1874 and was used as a railway station for passengers on both the Boston & Maine Railroad and the Billerica & Bedford Narrow Gauge Railroad. It included a ticket station and separate waiting areas for Men and Women.
The last few years have seen a host of improvements to Depot Park. The Town got a Federal Grant to upgrade the Loomis Street and South Road Intersection with improved pedestrian access and installed benches, trash receptacles and a water fountain to the area. In addition, the Bedford Farmer's Market will be held across the street starting in June.
I recently spoke with Jim Shea who is President of the non-profit Friends of Depot Park to learn more about the entire Depot Park project and why the Town decided to move forward with this Request For Proposal (RFP) to rent out The Bedford Depot Building. Jim explained that when the Minuteman Bikeway opened in 1993, the terminus in Bedford just ended in an unsafe manner right at South Road, there was not even a sign. Over the past 10 years or so, the Friends of Depot Park (who now number over 300) have worked closely with the town to improve the park and surrounding area to create a "Welcome to Bedford" positive feel in a previously neglected area of town. Jim mentioned that even with all the improvements, many users of the Bikeway still have no idea of where they are when they get to Depot Park.
The Depot Building sits adjacent to the western end of the 11 mile Minuteman Bikeway. In the distance, you can make out Budd Rail Diesel Car #6211 which went into service in 1955 and is in the process of being cosmetically restored.
According to Jim, an architectural study was done last year to look into the costs for a complete overhaul of the Bedford Depot to bring it back to it's original state (including removing the second floor). The results of the study indicated that the total cost would be close to $1 million dollars which is beyond the current financial capabilities of the town.
The Bedford Depot is in need of a renovation. While a complete renovation is not in the immediate future, a new roof is scheduled to be put on this summer. There are about a dozen parking spaces in front of the building with a total of 116 spaces available in nearby free public parking.
Due to this cost, the Town decided to explore if any businesses would be interested in renovating the building and came up with the RFP. Jim explained that if a tenant would like the entire building, the town would entertain a long term lease at a low price if the tenant was interested in doing the renovation in accordance with the town and historic guidelines. While that would be the ultimate solution, the town is also interested in just attracting businesses that would help turn Depot Park into a destination while generating lease revenue, which would go to supporting the park. As part of this process, the Town recognized that many businesses would be interested in a lease beyond the 5 year maximum allowed under state law. So the Town has added an Article for Town Meeting which if approved, would extend the maximum lease term to 10 years and provide the option to extend it all the way up to 99 years with authorization of the state legislators.
Over the next few months, the Town will appoint a committee to evaluate any proposals that were submitted by the March 24th deadline. The proposals will first be ranked on a subjective level and then they will be looked at in terms of pricing. In the subjective review, the RFP indicated the Town will provide a "Highly Advantageous" rating to businesses who want to rent the entire space for a restaurant, education, philanthropic or business/professional office. The Town has flexibility in renting to multiple businesses and will allow interior alterations with Town approval.
State money has recently been appropriated for the renovation of the nearby Bedford Freight House which is scheduled to begin shortly. The renovation will be a complete overhaul and include some badly needed public bathrooms. In addition, a kiosk will be setup in front of the Freight House and will display a map of Bedford along with some local points of interests.
In talking with Bedford residents, the most preferred business seems to be a restaurant in the Depot featuring outdoor seating overlooking Depot Park and the Minuteman Bikeway. In fact as part of the architectural study, a basic floor plan was commissioned and came up with the design below.
Draft design of a Restaurant Floor Plan for the Bedford Depot. Notice the deck that wraps around the building with a patio for outdoor seating. Please click on this image for a larger view.