LEWISTON — Signs are up and contractors are working on a railroad-themed cafe in Lewiston's historic Grand Trunk Railroad Depot, although cafe owner Karen Pulkkinen and building owners at the Lewiston-Auburn Railroad won't confirm anything.
"I would certainly hope something would happen at the site in 2013," L-A Railroad President Lucien Gosselin said. "We know the owner is investing significant money in the project and we want the venture to be a success, so we hope something is able to happen — the sooner, the better."
The depot was built in 1899 and served as the landing spot for many of Lewiston-Auburn's Canadian immigrants for many years. It's been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.
The railroad and the city began renovating the historic building in 2010, paying for the work with a $200,000 U.S Department of Agriculture grant and $115,800 of Lewiston's Community Development Block Grant allocation. The railroad itself has paid about $65,000.
The city and the railroad reportedly began working with Pulkkinen in 2010 to turn the space into a rail-themed restaurant.
The railroad's end of the work wrapped up in January, but water and mold issues delayed lease negotiations.
Two large puddles of water were discovered in the basement in the spring — one blamed on heavy spring rains and the second on a broken valve on the building's basement fire sprinkler. The project picked up another $5,100 EPA Brownfield grant to disinfect the basement and keep mold from growing.
That work was finished in September and economic development officials say a lease was signed in October. Contractors have started work setting the building up as a cafe, a sign for the Grand Trunk Cafe has been put up and the Grand Trunk Cafe website, at www.grandtrunkcafe.com, is live on the Internet.
Gosselin said he could not confirm that the lease was signed and Pulkkinen declined to comment.