Local News

Cary, Crystal Lake take next steps in buying Union Pacific station properties

Cary would turn former depot into plaza

The Metra station in Cary on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. Crystal Lake and Cary are in the considering purchases their downtown stations after Union Pacific decided to sell this station and other commuter stations.

Cary’s former train depot – now demolished – could be turned into an open space plaza, complete with a fire place, seating and bike rack.

If the village actually buys the Metra depot station area property along the Union Pacific Railroad West, Northwest and North Lines, the plaza could become reality.

Both the Cary Village Board and Crystal Lake City Council voted Tuesday to proceed to the next step in possibly buying the railroad properties by approving master purchase and sales agreements with Union Pacific.

“We are still just considering the purchase of that Union Pacific property,” Cary Village Administrator Jacob Rife said. “The village, over the next 365 days, will be doing our due diligence of the property, completing survey work to determine the boundaries of that property, so we can make a decision if it is in the best interests of the village to redevelop it as a depot plaza.”

Renderings show a plaza proposed for near the Metra commuter station in downtown Cary.

Cary approved an agreement with Metra, facilitating the sale of the commuter station and surrounding property in its downtown last November. The area in Cary under consideration is a 21,000-square-foot narrow strip of land at 100 W. Main St., which would cost the village $845,300 if the sale goes through.

“The previous old depot was on that site, and we removed it,” Rife said. “It would be a gathering space in the plaza area – with a fireplace, seating amenities for people – to continue to invest in our downtown.”

What officials need to do is confirm the land’s boundaries and decide if it’s in the village’s best interest to proceed with the purchase, Rife said.

“Please understand that the UP asking price is listed at approximately $845,000,” Rife stated in an email. “However, we still need to complete the survey of the property to determine the boundaries. We believe the actual final purchase price to be considered will be much lower than the initial asking price of approximately $845,000 once the property is actually surveyed.”

Crystal Lake approved a similar agreement last November to buy a 1.8-acre parcel at 70-88 E. Woodstock St. for almost $1.1 million. The property would include the depot parking lot, Depot Park and a portion of the downtown veterans park.

Crystal Lake has until Sept. 28 for a review of the title, survey, environmental assessment and consideration of additional costs, documents show.

The city is happy to take over the property, Crystal Lake council member Ian Philpot said Thursday.

“It’s great that the city has this opportunity,” Philpot said. “I’m hopeful that the property may have a future – something nice something that would fit into our downtown area. I very much like the idea that we have Depot Park. … That train station is on the same parcel as Depot Park, and there’s extra property that goes all the way over east toward Main Street.”

The city has its farmers market at Depot Park on Saturdays, and around the holidays, Christmas trees decorated by local clubs and groups are placed in the park, Philpot said.

“The farmers market is a an excellent use of that space, and it’s great that we have the ability to oversee what might be developed on that property going forward, to keep it as part of the downtown experience,” Philpot said.

A woman waits for a train Thursday, Feb, 3, 2022, at the Metra station in downtown Crystal Lake. Crystal Lake and Cary are in the considering purchases their downtown stations after Union Pacific decided to sell this station and other commuter stations.

Union Pacific notified Metra that it had entered into an agreement with an unnamed developer that it plans to sell some or all of its 41 train station properties, Metra said in a letter to affected municipalities last year.

Metra can buy each station property on the same terms and conditions if it gave 45 days of the Nov. 12, 2021, notice, according to documents.

Metra told the municipalities it did not have the capital budget to acquire any of the land, but it said it is willing to enter into intergovernmental agreements with each municipality to buy its train station real estate and transfer it to the municipality – if each municipality pays to finance the cost of the acquisition.

Last month, Metra and the Union Pacific executed master purchase and sale agreements for both Crystal Lake and Cary, records show, requiring both municipalities to take the actions they did this week.