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Pensacola’s Amtrak station has been vacant since it was damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. (Photo: Madison Arnold)

The week of Veterans Day, a proposed monument and museum to women veterans in Pensacola received a major stamp of approval 10 years after the idea was conceived.

The Pensacola City Council on Thursday unanimously approved the mayor to negotiate a lease agreement with Monument to Women Veterans, a nonprofit run by Michelle Caldwell, for the city’s old Amtrak building.

Now, the group can begin fundraising the $5 million needed to bring the monument and museum to fruition. 

“We did not want to take money from somebody on a building that we didn’t have a lease on,” Caldwell said. “That’s been our biggest thing, so just now to be able to have that really puts us in a different strategical place to be able to really make something happen.”

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The proposed lease terms are for a period of 20 years, with the option to extend it an additional 10 years.

The nonprofit will pay a rent of $1 a month for the first 18 months to provide the nonprofit enough time to fundraise the money needed for rehabbing the building. After that, the city will establish a market-rate rent for the Amtrak station with credit given to the nonprofit for funds spent to improve the property.

If after 18 months the nonprofit doesn’t have financial and liquid assets in the amount of at least $800,000 and a current construction plan and timeline, the city can terminate the lease.

Once the lease is signed, Caldwell said the developer, Everdean Construction, can begin getting the vacant Amtrak Station cleaned up. The building fell out of use after Hurricane Ivan in 2004 when Amtrak service stopped.

While there are no set plans to return Amtrak service to Pensacola, the museum plans likely wouldn’t impact the possibility of future service. Nowadays, Amtrak would likely just need space for a ticket kiosk and passengers to wait.

Caldwell said within 18 months, she hopes to have a certificate of occupancy for the building.

Work will include rehabbing the building, as well as building out two conference rooms, one for 155 people and another for 55 people. Caldwell said they could be rented out as an income source for the nonprofit. 

The nonprofit is also in negotiations with the property owners across the street, which would be the home of the monument part of the project, a proposed 35-foot flame with a bronze band covered with the names of