Inverness train depot

Inverness wants to lease the old train station in Liberty Park.

Most of the Inverness City Council agreed to set fewer restrictions as to who could lease the city’s old train station in Liberty Park, announcing they would allow alcohol sales if that was what it took to find a renter.

Four of the five council members, including the city mayor, asked City Manager Eric Williams to not limit the types of business the city is trying to attract as potential renters of the structure that was moved inside the park.

Eric Williams 2021

Eric Williams, Inverness city manager

Most of the council members agreed that if a business wanted to rent the structure as a restaurant, it would not be economical without some form of alcohol sales.

“I like the idea of casting a broad net” and not limiting who to attract, said Councilwoman Linda Bega during the council’s discussion on the issue during this week’s council meeting.

Amid discussions about what it would take to “make a living” from a business there, Bega said that selling breakfast and sandwiches for lunch “is not making a living.”

Currently, the city’s ordinances do not allow alcohol sales at the park.

Williams said the issue of alcohol sales “in my opinion, this is a critical point.”

Mayor Bob Plaisted said ordinances could be changed to allow alcohol.

Williams responded that in the city’s letter advertising the old station for lease, he could indicate the city would be willing to change ordinances to allow alcohol sales there.

But Councilman Cabot McBride said given the overall family atmosphere of the park and nearby playground, he could not support alcohol sales.

Williams said he wanted to make clear to potential renters what was allowed at the site.

“I don’t want to pull the rug out from someone,” Williams said.

Lauran Smith of GAI Consulting recommended to the council to not limit the train station’s use yet.

“You really want to cast that broad net,” she said.

The Depot District and the parks opened a year ago. The relocated train station still has no tenants.

The building is 3,600 square feet and currently divided into two sections. It has electric power, but no plumbing nor does it have completed floors. It has no restrooms, no designated parking or direct road to the building, and no loading dock. In the past, Williams has said the absence of these services could make it difficult to lease.

But the station is close to the Withlacoochee State Trail and downtown Inverness.

Councilman David Ryan said while he was initially opposed to the sale of alcohol there, he changed his mind in order to not limit who might rent the space.

Council president Jacquie Hepfer said she had no problem with alcohol sold with food at the site if someone wanted to make it a restaurant.

“To me it’s a very easy thing to control,” she said.   

• Also in city business, the council agreed to rework the city’s ordinance that allows businesses to expand the service area outside their facilities in order to serve food and drink.

The council asked Williams to come back with changes that would allow tables and chairs on the sidewalk on either side of the applicant business.

The council said the businesses next to the applicant would have to agree. Outdoor eating and drinking became more popular when state officials limited indoor service because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Contact Chronicle reporter Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@chronicleonline.com or 352-397-5914.