Glenwood Springs railroad museum future in question as rent hike looms
Glenwood Springs’ railroad history museum is trying to avoid becoming a thing of the past itself. The ongoing Seventh Street renaissance has increased the commercial value of the old train depot where the museum has lived for 15 years.
After its latest five-year, $250-per-year lease expired at the end of 2016, operators of the Glenwood Railroad Museum were notified that Amtrak station owners Union Pacific Railroad wanted to renegotiate the terms.
“We were advised by UP’s property management office that they feel, given the value of other retail property in Glenwood Springs, that we should be paying something closer to what they consider fair market value,” Patrick Thrasher wrote in a recent letter to supporters. Thrasher is museum manager and president of the Western Colorado Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.
The letter urges people to write to UP Chairman and CEO Lance M. Fritz in Omaha, Nebraska, asking that the company extend a favorable lease that will allow the museum to continue in its current location.
“We recognize that $250 annually has been a very generous offer on UP’s part,” Thrasher told the Post Independent this week, adding that the arrangement has helped the museum bolster its standing and stay afloat.
But he said the museum is not in the position to pay full-market commercial rents. Thrasher was advised these could be in the neighborhood of $15 per square foot. That would amount to about the same as the museum’s total income in 2016 of around $28,000, he said.
Raquel Espinoza, corporate communications director for UP in Colorado and Wyoming, acknowledged that the railroad company wants to update the lease, but said UP is willing to work with the museum.
“We do value our relationship with the Glenwood Railroad Museum and the historical society’s effort to keep the local railroad history alive,” Espinoza said. “Because of that history, we are providing a significant extension to allow the museum to be able to align itself with comparable rates in that vibrant area of town. …
“A lot has changed in that area, and we expect this property to continue to enhance the local economy,” she said. “If they would like to stay, we will certainly be willing to evaluate as long as they are willing to come into new terms.”
Thrasher said UP also suggested the museum might consider an alternative location. But there’s no better location than an “architecturally and historically significant” rail station next to an active rail line, he said.
“Our co-location with Amtrak is very important to our overall financial health,” Thrasher said. “A substantial portion of our visitation are folks waiting for the train to arrive.”
The train schedule and Amtrak’s own departure figures have even guided the museum’s hours. The museum is open Friday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., which is the time period when the most people are waiting for the train to come, he said.
“It’s pretty clear to us that if we were to move to another location, it takes us away from Amtrak and we lose a substantial portion of our visitation and income,” Thrasher said.
The museum is located in the east end of the Amtrak station, which served as the ladies waiting room after the station was built in 1904. It includes photos and other historical archives documenting the battle between the Denver & Rio Grande Western and Colorado Midland railroads to take hold in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The museum’s working G-scale Lionel train set and smaller scale model train is among the main attractions. The back workshop area features several actual railroad artifacts and a larger-scale steam engine that was donated to the museum.
Thrasher said the museum has taken steps to improve its financial standing by doubling the museum entrance fee from $1 to $2, soliciting donated craft items to sell in the small gift shop and stepping up membership efforts.
“We have done some things to try to improve our cash-flow situation, and we are getting a little bit of a bump from the folks who are riding the train from Denver over the weekend,” he said. “We would like to keep the museum open and in this building. There’s just not a better place in Glenwood Springs for a railroad museum, in our opinion.”
One supporter who addressed a letter to UP Chairman Fritz, and copied it as a letter to the editor of the Post Independent, said the museum is a favorite outing for nursing home residents.
“Museum outings in particular are not only educational, but they are a great chance for reminiscing,” wrote Paul Rice, activities director for a long-term care center in Rifle. “Over the years, the Glenwood Railroad Museum has not only made accommodations for us to visit the historic site, but they have gone out of their way to bring the history to us.”
Thrasher said the museum remains on a year-to-year arrangement at the train station for now, until a new long-term lease can be signed or other accommodations found.
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Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon may be closed intermittently Wednesday through the weekend, as highway crews break down and remove boulders and patch potholes caused by Tuesday’s rock slide.