ABOVE: The station on South Dixie Highway, designed by Chester G. Henninger, opened in 1930 and operated until 1968. The buyer plans to renovate the station and use it for cultural events. BELOW: A restored 1947 dining car. Photos provided by Peter Lorber
By Mary Hladky
The $2.1 million sale of the former Florida East Coast Railway station in Boca Raton has been finalized nearly three years after the Boca Raton Historical Society and Museum selected Mizner Arts LLC as the buyer.
The Mizner Arts principals are Boca Raton-based GEO Group founder and CEO George Zoley and his family, but the driving force behind the purchase is his daughter, Holly Meehan.
The sale was completed on Aug. 26, according to county property records.
“We want to save it,” Meehan said of the train station, which opened at 747 S. Dixie Highway in 1930 and remained in operation until 1968. “We want the community to be able to use it. It really is for the community.”
The building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will be used for cultural and arts events, she said. More specifics will come after she and her mother, Donna Zoley, renovate the building, a project that she expects will take some time.
Meehan, a longtime Junior League volunteer and a former historical society board member, will maintain the society’s Ticket to Ride education program at the train depot.
The program has long been very popular with school groups, which learn about the railroad and its impact on city and state history while visiting the depot and two restored 1947 rail cars, a steam engine and caboose.
Mary Csar, the historical society’s executive director, said the difficult decision to sell the station was made in 2015 because the society could not afford to operate and maintain both it and the historic Town Hall building at 71 N. Federal Highway.
“We can now focus on the Town Hall,” she said. “I think it will be a win-win.”
The historical society’s board agreed early on that Meehan’s proposal for the train station was the best one submitted, Csar said.
“It is exactly what we would want to do ourselves if we could do it,” she said. “It is fantastic for the community.”
Csar and Meehan both anticipate the train depot will become a gathering place for residents and visitors attending special events and community activities.
The historical society will invest the sale proceeds to sustain itself and the Town Hall museum.
It is in the midst of renovating the Town Hall, which was built in 1928 and designed by famed architect Addison Mizner. It also is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The project initially was expected to cost $1.5 million but has risen to about $3.9 million because of the complexity of updating an old building, Csar said.
The historical society is financing the project through reserves and a fundraising campaign. The city, which owns the Town Hall, contributed $650,000 to the project in 2019.
Csar expects to reopen the building and its museum to the public in late 2020 or early 2021.