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Tricon Construction crews work to restore the railroad depot sidewalk in Cleveland Tenn.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Officials expect Cleveland's century-old railway depot will reopen in June to begin a new life as hub for local transit.

This week the Cleveland Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization announced that the restoration of the old Southern Railway depot -- a registered historic landmark -- should be complete before the end of June.

The restored depot will serve as the administrative office for the Cleveland Urban Area Transit System and provide the central hub for its buses.

"As a staff, we are excited about being part of the revitalization of the depot and downtown," said Robert Varnell, director of the urban transit system.

Local elected officials and planners praised the efforts of Ray Evans, executive director of Southeast Tennessee Human Resource Agency, who accepted the challenge to get the unused structure back into shape about six years ago.

"It's not just me, but the whole county," Evans said. "You would not believe the number of people [who are] excited about seeing this old depot restored."

Evans said former Southern Railway employees and passengers have shared their memories with him, revealing that a strong connection still exists between the town and the depot.

It took persistence to acquire the building and property from Norfolk Southern Railway, Evans said, stating that he believed their attorneys finally accepted that he would not drop the project.

Of the restoration program itself, which began about 16 months ago, Evans said he was quite pleased with the lightweight faux Spanish tiles used on the depot's roof.

Cleveland artist Tom Rock, who has spent years researching and painting local and regional railroad history, said he was maintaining a blog of the restoration process and looked forward to the grand opening.

Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said depot operators also are seeking memorabilia, especially from its heyday as a passenger train station, for display purposes.

A few mementos were discovered by accident within the depot, said Rowland, noting that an unopened bar of Lava soap was found within a wall when restoration began.

Evans also said the depot restoration would be his last major endeavor with the strategic planning panel, and announced he would retire June 30 from the human resource agency.

Rowland praised Evans for championing the depot project, which he said would serve as "the jewel in his crown" of 32 years of service to Cleveland.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at