Rental Request Results in Deeper Look at Depot Park Area

Depot Park, at noon on a summer's day - Image (c) JMcCT 2013, all rights reserved
Depot Park, at noon on a summer’s day – Image (c) JMcCT 2013, all rights reserved

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

A request from Clark Road residents Stephen and Maryalyce “Mimi” Henning to rent the yellow Freight House at Depot Park for a “50’s café-type restaurant” has resulted in an August 5 decision by town leaders to look comprehensively at an area undergoing transition, and to consider how both the Freight House and Passenger Depot buildings should be viewed going forward.

According to a memo from Town Manager Rick Reed to the Selectmen that spelled out the chronology of events, an April 18 email from the Hennings to Reed’s office began a several-months-long process of gathering input from committees and individuals with interests in Depot Park. At their August 5 meeting, the Selectmen weighed that input, taking into account the various viewpoints of the Hennings, members of the Depot Park Advisory Committee, members of the Friends of Depot Park, the Historical Society and Historic Preservation Commission, a tenant of the Depot Passenger building, the Town’s Code Enforcement office and 54 Loomis Street owner David Cerundolo.

Differing Points of View

The vision of the Hennings is to turn the small Freight House building into a breakfast and lunch establishment with a counter, a small number of tables, and additional outdoor seating, if possible. The restaurant, Mimi Henning said, would be kid- and family-friendly as well as an attraction for those coming to Bedford via the Minuteman Bike Path.

Henning— proprietor of the catering company “Traveling Bistro”— told Selectmen and those in attendance, “I’ve put a lot of thought into this. It has not been a quick process. It’s a very charming building and I think that area is a very good area to bring in people to Bedford. I think we could utilize it more but keep the history of it and keep it in a railroad theme.

“It would be an old-fashioned kind of café—nothing fancy but with healthy choices,” Henning continued. “It would be home-cooked meals…. Many people keep coming to me saying ‘please do it, please do it.’  I’d love to be part of getting that whole area to grow.”

In contrast to Henning’s vision, Joe Piantedosi, Chair of the Depot Park Advisory Committee, spoke in favor of the current renters of the building— the Friends of Depot Park—the  non-profit group that now sells drinks and historical memorabilia at the Freight House on weekends from April through October. The money from sales amounts to between $4,000 and $5,000 annually and, according to Piantedosi, “has helped the Depot Park complex [to] remain cost-neutral to Bedford taxpayers.”

Piantedosi also noted that federal and state grants as well as Community Preservation and revolving fund money have been used to renovate and preserve the Freight House as a “museum to display and promote Bedford’s unique railroad history” as the site of the first narrow-gauge rail line in the country.

Don Corey of the Bedford Historical Society and Chair of the town’s Historic Preservation Committee, echoed many of Piantedosi’s comments, saying that the Freight House is “a one-of-a-kind, unique welcome center. Every town has some kind of welcome center—Bedford’s happens to be the Freight House and it has been extremely successful and not just for cyclists—for people all over the state, all over the country, and all over the world. It would be disappointing to lose the welcome center.”

But, Corey added, “It’s reassuring and nice to have this problem where a couple of people are competing for the use of a restored, historic, municipal property.”

A letter from Code Enforcement officer Chris Laskey, asked by Town Manager Reed to comment on the matter, listed several difficulties in locating a restaurant establishment at the Freight House—such as zoning, the need for an exhaust system and a fire suppression system— although without viewing actual plans and knowing details, Laskey said he could only speak in generalities.

Donna Waghorne, a member of the glass cooperative group of artists that rents space on the second floor of the Passenger Depot building—also located in Depot Park— raised the subject of parking, saying that even now, without a restaurant at the site, it is often hard to find a space to park.

Copies of a letter from Dave Cerundolo— owner of the 54 Loomis Street property slated for redevelopment into retail shops and residential condominiums— were distributed to the Selectmen to encourage interest in his location as a restaurant site.

Given all the differing interests and the changing nature of the Depot Park area, the Selectmen decided to table a decision for the time being, although they expressed the hope that the Hennings would consider other sites such as 54 Loomis, once it has been redeveloped, or the Passenger Depot, once exterior renovations have been completed and the current second floor has been removed, as planned. The Selectmen commended the Depot Park groups for the work they have done to re-invigorate the area, calling it a former “wasteland” that is gradually transforming into a more desirable, attractive place.

Selectman Margot Fleischman summarized the Selectmen’s sentiments in this way: “Everything is so much nicer [in the Depot Park area] and that allows us to have some sense of potential and vision for the future. [But] it is a developing situation down there with a new 54 Loomis Street coming. There are a lot of question marks and a lot of moving parts having to do with how the site would work.

“I think one thing we can all agree on is that we need to develop some sort of vision for the long-term future for that area. I think it will become vibrant and I think it will need businesses like what Ms. Henning proposes,” Fleischman concluded.

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9 years ago

So the current tenants of the building would go where? And considering Historic preservation funds were used, would it be proper to give this to some business without requiring them to do anything? jeez.

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