Tavares unveils $500K tourist train depot

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TAVARES, Fla. —

Eyewitness News asked why Tavares taxpayers had to spend $1/2 million to build a new train depot when a private company will cash in.

The locomotive runs through Tavares and Eustis.

There have been many tourist trains in Lake County through the years that have failed, but city leaders insist this one will be the exception and that taxpayers will get a huge return now that they've built the new depot.

A century-old locomotive cut the ribbon on the new Tavares train depot.

Operators of the steam engine say the new building is essential to their success.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say a 10," said Neil Bagaus of Tavares, Eustis and Gulf Railroad.

Bagaus runs the Orange Blossom Cannonball, a tourist train.

It's the type of enterprise that has usually failed in Lake County.

The city of Tavares stepped in and paid $1/2 million to build the depot.

Some taxpayers objected, not wanting public money to help a private business.

The city said in time, the railroad, and the local Chamber of Commerce, which shares the building, will pay it all back.

"About 14 years. The lease payments from the chamber and the railroad will pay the mortgage off. And the city will own the building free and clear," said Bill Neron of the city of Tavares.

The locomotive is an antique. The depot is a replica of one built on the very spot in the 1880s. The railroad's rent is $1,200 a month. Officials said they've already signed a five-year lease.

"We're helping to pay this off, yeah. It's pretty much the going rent for what something in Tavares would draw," Bagaus said.

The train has been running for two years now and has carried about 45,000 passengers so far.