Dodge City’s Tourism Task Force recently received the results of a feasibility study designed to help determine the future of the Santa Fe Depot.

Dodge City’s Tourism Task Force recently received the results of a feasibility study designed to help determine the future of the Santa Fe Depot.
The study was funded by the task force using organizational funding generated by the Why Not Dodge? sales tax.
"The Depot Theater in the major tenant in the building and the most important — our goal is to enhance and compliment their operations and not to jeopardize any of their activities, while at the same time ensuring the building is properly maintained and developed," said Melissa McCoy, project development coordinator for the city of Dodge City.
As a major component of the master tourism plan developed for Dodge City several years ago, which the tourism task force is working to implement, the depot still houses unused space, primarily on the west end of the second floor.
Organizers hope to create a way of producing income from that space to help cover the costs of maintaining and operating the building.
"No decisions have been made yet — and we're open to ideas from the public," McCoy said.
As part of the research phase of the project, members of the task force and representatives of other stakeholders have traveled to Winslow, Ariz., and Waynoka, Okla., to visit similar train stations.
La Posada in Winslow was the last great railroad hotel built by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1929 for the Fred Harvey Company and designed by architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Coulter.
The building was acquired and renovated by private funding and now houses two wings of guest rooms, a fine dining restaurant, artist studios, public spaces and a ballroom.
The Harvey House in Waynoka, Okla., opened in 1910. It was restored in 1999 and now houses the Waynoka History Museum, a restaurant and gift shop.
"As a result of touring these Harvey facilities, we realize we need to find ways to bring the public into more of the building and more often, and we also realized that we have a resource they don't — the history of Dodge City," McCoy said.
Organizers designed the feasibility study to look at two things: the public's impression about the depot and its future uses and public perceptions about the Depot Theater Company.
Kent Stehlik, owner of Stehlik Fundraising and a member of the Tourism Task Force, worked with McCoy to design and conduct the study.
"The results were positive," Stehlik said.
"The public sees the depot as a quality of life project. The think it's good for civic pride and they like the ideas for future development," he said.
Among the suggestions currently being considered are returning the west end of the second floor to use as a hotel, for which it was originally built.
Along with the boutique hotel, which would be marketed to railroad, history and Fred Harvey enthusiasts, the original dining room, El Vaquero, would become a fine dining restaurant, also returning to the original purpose for which it was built.
"Both the hotel and the restaurant would connect the project back to Fred Harvey," McCoy said.
A study completed earlier this year by the entrepreneurship department at the University of Kansas compared using the second floor as a hotel to creating a business incubator in the space and determined the hotel would be better.
"Of course, we'll have to do a cost/benefit analysis," McCoy said.
Stehlik has already been in touch with the state historic preservation officer and the Kansas Department of Transportation, both significant players in the original renovation of the depot.
"The project will qualify for transportation enhancement funds and it will also be eligible for tax credits," Stehlik said.
Transportation enhancement funds would likely be a large factor in funding the project. An application will be submitted early next year and decisions will be announced in the summer of 2013.
With that timing in mind, the Depot Theater Company is planning a fundraising campaign to begin in the fall of 2013.
"The feasibility study is one of the initial steps in laying the groundwork for a capital campaign," said Connie Penick, director of the Depot Theater Company.
Penick visited both Waynoka and Winslow.
"What I learned there is that we are not promoting what we have — our history, this building," she said.
Penick found valuable advice in the way Waynoka officials had worked to connect with history, railroad and Fred Harvey enthusiasts.
"We have a wonderful opportunity to be part of what we're calling the Fred Harvey Trail, a way to connect all those resources to those who are interested in them," she said.
Penick is happy to have support from the city and the tourism task force.
"Change is difficult and forming this partnership will help make the process easier. We're all trying to ensure the continued success of the theater while creating compatible tenants," she said.
Penick also realized that, although the overall results of the feasibility study are positive, the theater needs to do a better job of telling the community what's going on in the building.
Stehlik and McCoy are working on grant applications and developing preliminary plans for the hotel, which will probably be completed in phases.
"Each room will have a different configuration and several of the rooms will have amazing views," Stehlik said.
"There will be a suite on the west end that overlooks the tracks and the Wyatt Earp statue. There is a room on the south side that looks down the tracks to both the east and the west," Stehlik said.
As part of the new plan, the theater will consider new summer programming directed more toward the tourism market.
They'll also consider a redesign of the kitchen to accommodate the needs of a fine dining restaurant.
"We want to use Mary Coulter china and all the things that will create an authentic Fred Harvey dining experience, "Stehlik said.
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of part of the depot that was added to expand the hotel.
"We want to continue what author and Harvey historian Stephen Fried, in his book called 'Appetite For America,' called a brilliant restoration," Stehlik said.