PAWTUCKET – The opening of a new Pawtucket-Central Falls Commuter Rail Station remains on target for next summer, but just up the tracks, the old hulking brick train station that was once pegged to be rehabbed into a modern train facility remains looming as an albatross over the live tracks.
The old Pawtucket-Central Falls Railroad Station, located behind fencing at CVS on Broad Street, has been ineffective at keeping people out as its boarded windows have gradually been opened up. Over the past three months, said a spokesman for Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien this week, someone died of a drug overdose within the walls of the structure, and there were two fires inside that were created by people who had illegally entered the building.
Coming since Pawtucket/Central Falls Building Inspector John Hanley deemed the building to be unsecure upon inspection late last year, these incidents “have further amplified the concern in the last three months,” said Wilder Arboleda, of Grebien’s office.
The station that was once tabbed for demolition but saved through the “Save Our Station” protests led by historic preservationists has a history that includes one-time ownership by former City Councilor Albert Vitali Jr.’s family and later ownership by a church before another entity purchased it at tax sale.
The old station was ultimately deemed to be unsuitable for a modern train station because of the curve in the tracks near CVS making it problematic for creating a platform.
“The old Pawtucket/Central Falls Train Station, which is privately owned, has had a long history of incidents that support the grave concerns for safety and public health shared by the cities of Pawtucket and Central Falls,” Arboleda said this week. Because the property straddles the border, both cities are collaborating and in the process of reviewing documentation to determine what the best course of action is for the two communities. The cities have received the support and encouragement of their partners at Amtrak, said Arboleda.
“We hope to come to a conclusion on how best to move forward in the coming weeks,” he said.
Pawtucket officials were inside the building last week as part of the process to obtain estimates to properly secure the property while both cities work together on a long-term solution here, he said.
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Zoning Director Bill Vieira is looking into best options and price estimates to fully secure the facility, he said. He said the city is also working with Amtrak, which previously deemed the structure safe for trains to pass underneath, to conduct another inspection of the building.
The Breeze reported in 2016 that the city had again cited the owner of the property for violations. The church Iglesia Pentecostal Nueva Vida En Cristo was cited for having high grass and “stacked materials creating rodent harborage” on the Montgomery Street side of the old station.
Members of the church that year requested to use that side of the property for parking at their nearby church on Broad Street, and officials allowed it as long as it was cleaned up.
Hanley told The Breeze then that he believed the church was “bamboozled” into purchasing the property for $1 in 2012, its leaders clearly not realizing the liability they were taking on when they bought the property they’d previously held services in before it was shut down.
With three electrified railroad tracks and a crumbling brick structure sitting on a steel frame, the potential cost of restoring the property is estimated at tens of millions of dollars, according to officials over the years, meaning demolition may be the only option.
Inspections have not shown the station in danger of collapsing onto the tracks beneath it, according to officials, though loose brick from its facades has routinely been removed.
The Pawtucket-Central Falls Railroad Station at 9 Railroad St. was purchased at tax sale by Broad Investments LLC in the fall of 2014. According to city property records, it went back to the church after a year, but Broad Investments LLC was later listed as the owner again. Records showed it was purchased from the church for $28,000 in 2014, that it was taken over by Broad Investments for zero dollars in June of 2018, and that a combined entity called Broad Investments LLC & Reservoir purchased it for $79,000 in July of that year. According to Arboleda, Reservoir Adventures LLC foreclosed on the right to redeem through a court process in March of last year.
Former owner Oscar “Ike” Seelbinder sold the depot for $1 to the church in December of 2012. Seelbinder was originally blocked in his efforts to develop the property by those who wished to save the station.
Seelbinder purchased the station from the Vitali family, which previously ran a flea market in the building.