Determined neighbors in Elkins Parks have struck a sweet deal with SEPTA.
They're giving the historic EIkins Park Train Station a makeover. And if they pull it off as planned, they could end up with a thriving, eye-popping place that brings people together.
"It's a wonderful community. We get addicted to potential," said Cynthia Blackwood, owner of The Frame House.
Blackwood is the woman behind the movement. About eight months ago, she says she was pondering ways to make her community better. She brainstormed with neighbors and reached out to fellow community members like Lisa Stockebrand, who is an artist and designer Bruce Starr. Eventually, the three of them settled on an idea to repurpose the old depot and turn it into a new community arts center.
"It's a landmark just based on the appearance of the station. Everybody feels vested in it and we are always thinking about the things it could be," said Starr.
The historic treasure is only partially used by SEPTA for a ticket window. The other half of the inbound side of the station sits dormant and locked. The windows have been covered for nearly a decade.
Blackwood led a group of volunteers who successfully pitched the idea to the Cheltenham Township Community Development Corporation (CTCDC), a local non-profit, and SEPTA.
"We love when the community partners with us and recognizes the historical significance of the stations. It's a win, win," said SEPTA spokesperson Jerri Williams.
It is a big win for SEPTA. Essentially, they'll have an historic building renovated, without having to put up any money.
"We are very excited that they are forming this group and we support whatever can be done to restore the train station," said Williams.
The responsibility of raising restoration funds falls to the community.
Blackwood says $260,000 is needed to make the station habitable. To date, $1,000 has been raised.
While the project is just getting off the ground, Blackwood hopes grants and other private-sector support will help them meet their goal. Volunteers have already settled on a name for their new space-- "Elkins Central."
"It'll be a community space rather than another coffee shop at a train station," said Blackwood.
Adam Silverman of the CTCDC described the needed rehab as "non-glamourous improvements," such as fixing a water problem in the basement. "Now all we need to do is raise the money to do the work," said Silverman.
Resident and SEPTA rider Chris Cavallucci is excited about the restoration.
"It's my stop. I'm glad the community and SEPTA has come together," he said. "The architecture from the period is just phenomenal. It was great to look in the windows and see wooden floors and that they will potentially have new life."
The Elkins Park train station was once a stop on the famous Reading Line. It is on the National Registery for Historic Places. The station is adorned with original wood trimming and a fireplace.
Silverman believes using the station as a community art space will "provide another keystone to the area." The town is already known as an artists' enclave. The Tyler School of Art at Temple was once based at the Elkins Park campus prior to the school's move to main campus in 2009.
The Elkins Central volunteers plan for the train station to be one of the stops on the Turtle Artisans Tour this year. The group will hold an art show in September and are accepting artist submissions now.
SEPTA press officer Kristin Geiger said this arrangement is the first of its kind -- SEPTA's exploration of a direct partnership with a community group to rehab a train station. According to SEPTA's agreement, the CTCDC has 11 months to raise the funds to renovate and rehab the approximately 900 square foot space. After that point, the CTCDC may further explore a leasing arrangement. For the time being, they are able to occupy the space rent free to fundraise and prepare for the rehab.
There are additional vacant train stations. SEPTA would welcome exploring additional community partnerships.
"We have many old stations that need to be preserved but don't have the funding to do it," Williams said.