Nova Scotia

Amherst mayor frets about delays in sale of Via Rail station

Amherst Mayor David Kogon is getting nervous about the future of one of the town's landmark properties.

'We keep thinking we're just on the verge of it being done and then something else delays it'

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)

Amherst Mayor David Kogon is getting nervous about the future of one of the town's landmark properties.

The Via Rail station has been been closed since 2012. About two years ago, the Town of Amherst put together a deal to buy the downtown heritage property, built in 1908, from Via Rail.

The idea was to lease it to a local business for five years. By the end of the lease, J.E. Bembridge Enterprises, which plans to run two restaurants out of the building, would own the property.

"The building carries a very historical significance and therefore has heritage value. But it would also become a place where there would be an active thriving business, that only makes Amherst more attractive," Kogon said.

"The more of this we have, it's better for our economy."

Sale held up

The mayor anticipated the sale of the property would have been completed by now.

"We keep thinking we're just on the verge of it being done and then something else delays it."

Amherst Mayor David Kogon. (Town of Amherst)

The town also agreed to rent a portion of the station back to the railway so its passengers would have a waiting room and access to washroom as well as space for some technology that is needed for railway operations.

The entire deal was contingent on Via Rail getting approval from Parks Canada, the minister responsible for the railway's operation and Via Rail's board of directors.

In August 2017, the town learned that the federal Privy Council had approved the sale of the station to the town.

Since then, Via has requested some minor changes to the agreement, which the town agreed to. Parks Canada also gave its approval to the project in November.

'It's all at their end'

Kogon isn't sure what the holdup is now.

"But it's all at their end and I don't have all of the background as to what the thinking is or what actually goes on. We keep  thinking it's basically done and going to come to fruition and then something else delays it."

He does know that businessman Jeff Bembridge, who's heading up the restaurant project, is beginning to get frustrated.

"I'm still interested in the project. The town's worked well with me, but I can't wait much longer," he said in a statement to the town.

 "I'm 55 not 20 anymore. If it's going to happen it has to happen this year. If it doesn't, I may have to look elsewhere, may have to take this project to another community."

Via Rail reviewing documents

If the sale agreement falls through, the train station "remains in the hands of Via and I don't know what their plans will be," Kogon said.

The worst-case scenario is for the building to be demolished.

"We'd hate to see that happen," he said. 

On Saturday, Via Rail issued a statement stating: 

"VIA Rail received the latest version of the documents only yesterday. We will now review them and hopefully, the matter will be finalized in the coming days."

With files from Carolyn Ray