Tentative deal reached for Amherst to buy heritage Via Rail train station

The train station has been closed since 2012, but the town hopes to buy and then lease the iconic heritage property to a local entrepreneur.

Train station has been closed since 2012, but town hopes to buy and then lease it to local business owner

The Via Rail train station in Amherst, N.S., may be the site of two restaurants if a deal to sell the iconic heritage property finally goes through. (Town of Amherst)

The Town of Amherst has reached a tentative agreement with Via Rail to purchase the historic rail station and property from the Crown corporation.

On Tuesday, Mayor David Kogon said the town received a draft agreement from Via and council would be "taking steps within the next two weeks to seal the deal."

"We are looking forward to proceeding with this win-win project that will benefit the town via the revitalization of the Via Rail station," Kogon said in the news release. "As far as the town is concerned, we have a done deal."

The Via Rail station has been closed since 2012, although the train will still pick up and drop off passengers at the platform. About two years ago, the town put together a proposal to buy the heritage property, built in 1908, from the company.

Leasing to local business

The plan would see the town lease the building to a local entrepreneur for five years. At the end of the lease, J.E. Bembridge Enterprises, which plans to operate two restaurants out of the building, would own the property.

"It's very big because of the nature of its location, right in the downtown," Kogon told CBC News. "We're a hub on three provinces in Amherst so there's a lot of traffic through here and there's a lot of rail traffic, not just highway.

"The building is very important," he added. "To add two restaurants to our downtown is a very important benefit to us as well."

The mayor had been concerned about how long the sale was taking. In the news release, Kogon said Via Rail got in touch after the town "expressed last week that [the sale] was dragging on too long."

Municipal heritage property

Council is expected to approve the deal at its Jan. 22 meeting and Kogon said he anticipates the deal will close March 1. A survey with the Nova Scotia Land Registry is expected to be filed in a week.

The deal means the station has been declared a municipal heritage property, which means there can be no demolition or substantial alterations to the exterior of the building without permission from the town.

The town also agreed it would rent space within the station to Via so it has access to technology that's needed for railway operations and so passengers have a waiting room and access to washrooms.

In an email to CBC News, Via Rail spokesperson Mylene Belanger said the company has reviewed documents related to the Amherst station and has returned the documents to town officials. Belanger said Via Rail will follow up with the town over the coming days to ensure it can complete the process as soon as possible.