Sooner Mystic depot reopens the better

Despite the “welcome” sign outside the Mystic train station, there’s little that feels welcoming around the depot.

Doors are locked. The building is dark and empty. There’s not a restroom in sight. No signs provide details about where to find a hotel or how to dial up a taxi. The best option for a visitor unfamiliar with the local territory is to head two buildings down, following directions to the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce office printed on a sign taped to the station door.

This dubious welcome is an insult for those arriving in the area for some fun and relaxation. Mystic is a tourism powerhouse in the state and plenty of advertising and marketing money is directed to luring visitors. As many as nine trains a day stop in Mystic.

Thankfully, visitors will not have to tolerate the forlorn and unfriendly atmosphere around the train station much longer. But the bad news is the station is likely to remain a shuttered fortress through most, if not all, of the prime tourism months now upon us.

The charming, historic depot building closed nearly four months ago. Before that, despite the Mystic chamber’s valiant efforts to staff the depot as a tourist information center via a cadre of volunteers, visitors’ services were limited in terms of both offerings and hours of operation. During that time, however, at least some travelers had benefitted from being greeted by a welcoming smile, and, finding a restroom and Amtrak ticket machine, if they needed either one.

Amtrak recently agreed to lease the station to one of three enterprises that submitted proposals. A railroad spokesman said the Rhode Island-based company chosen for the lease submitted a “very strong proposal” to open a café and snack shop, work with local tourism-oriented businesses to help promote their attractions and services at the station, display and sell local artwork and keep the depot open to travelers needing a bathroom or an Amtrak ticketing machine.

The business will be a welcome addition in downtown Mystic, but the timeline to open it is maddeningly vague. The best-case scenario for opening is mid-August, but the Amtrak spokesman said it also might be fall before the depot’s doors once again are unlocked.

Perhaps public access might have been more quickly restored if Amtrak instead chose the viable lease proposal submitted by the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce. That plan called for operating the depot as a public information center under a shared governance structure that included representatives of a host of tourism-oriented local attractions and businesses.

Considering the building could only optimistically be described as needing some TLC, we appreciate that the depot can be transformed into a crowd-pleasing cafe only via some renovations. We also appreciate that such work takes time. But already the public has been shut out of this public building for too long and the atmosphere at the station is off-putting to the visitors the region works to entice. We urge work to reopen the depot be put on a fast track and a truly welcoming atmosphere is restored as soon as possible. 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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