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What Do You Think Should Be Done With Fort Collins' Historic Trolley Barn?

Emily Wilmsen
City of Fort Collins
Fort Collins' historic Trolley Barn is currently used to store city vehicles but a variety of organizations and businesses have shown interest in the building.

Fort Collins' historic Trolley Barn hasn't housed working trolleys in a long time – but the time may be right to bring some new life to the old barn, said Josh Birks, City of Fort Collins Economic Health Director.

In the last few years, a variety of groups including restaurateurs and historic restoration groups have inquired about moving in. Right now, the 10,000-square-foot space is used to store city vehicles, as well as a trolley restoration project.

"There's a lot of growth going on in that area right now and a lot of potential," said Birks. "To me, that just underscores the need to get it right."

Birks points to Denver's restoration of Union Station as a great example of this process done well. While on a much larger scale than the Trolley Barn, the project was done very intentionally. They waited until a lot of the area around it had developed and then went through a fairly extensive process in deciding on the right mix of old and new for the transportation hub that features a luxury hotel and restaurants.

To make sure Fort Collins gets it right, city officials are asking for input from the public, including a Sept. 9, 2015 public meeting, on what to do with this 108-year-old landmark.

While there are three main options that have been proposed to the city so far, Birks said nothing is being discounted.

A Historic Site:

The one-story brick 'barn,' built in 1907, has a historic feel in keeping with much of Old Town, Birks said. But oddly enough, the Trolley Barn is not used to store the city's current lone trolley car, Birney Car 21, which runs on weekends and holidays in the summer. "There's no track from Mountain (Avenue) to the trolley barn anymore," he said. "So the trolley that currently operates in the summer is stored over at City Park."

The Fort Collins Municipal Railway Society, which is currently using part of the barn to restore a trolley car, is interested in returning the barn to its original use – to store trolleys. Restoring the tracks from Mountain Avenue to the barn would allow the group to return the site to its historic roots.

Credit Courtesy of the City of Fort Collins
In the early 1900s, The Trolley Barn was the depot for the Fort Collins Municipal Railway's three-line street car system, which ran until 1951.

A Food Co-Op/Community Market:

The Fort Collins Food Co-op has approached the city several times about the possibility of turning the trolley barn into a community marketplace, Birks said. The indoor/outdoor farmers market would run year-round.

A Bar/Restaurant/Brewery:

Several private businesses have approached the city about turning the barn into a restaurant or a craft brewery, Birks said. The upcoming meeting will likely have a large audience of folks who might not want that.

"We will be making a concerted effort to hear from the neighbors," Birks said. "We want to be mindful to make sure that it is an asset that integrates well into the surrounding neighborhood as well."

The Trolley Barn was the depot for the Fort Collins Municipal Railway's three-line street car system, which ran until May 1951. According to the Fort Collins Municipal Railway Society's website, the advent of the automobile ushered out the use of trolleys across much of the country. Fort Collins was the smallest (and last) city in the U.S. to operate a regularly scheduled single-track Birney streetcar service.

Birks clarified that the city is not looking to sell the historic building.

"What we're evaluating right now is if it can be used for a more productive public or private use than storage and how can it add to the character of Old Town," he said.

Once comments from the meetings and an online questionnaire have been collected, the department will report their findings to City Council before issuing a formal request for proposals, Birks said. But it could be a while before any decisions are made.

Birks estimated that a decision likely wouldn't come before spring of 2016.

There's one other option for the barn, he added.

"You know one solution might be what we've kind of fondly called inside the city the 'Frankensite' approach, which is, you try to do a little bit of everything on site and see if that doesn't make for a pretty interesting and compelling use. How that would work and who would operate it… would still be big, big questions still to be answered."

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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