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Stillwater City Administrator on the Minnesota Zephyr: 'I Want It Gone'

Since attempts to relocate the famous Minnesota Zephyr from the north end of downtown Stillwater stalled this summer, David Paradeau's train has sat on city property. The city of Stillwater wants it gone, now.

For five months the famed Minnesota Zephyr train has sat on blocks and wrapped in orange fencing—essentially abandoned—on city property in the north end of downtown Stillwater.

Now the time has come: The locomotive will be removed from city property one way or another.

After selling the nearly 6-mile train corridor the Minnesota Zephyr operated on to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for $4.25 million, David Paradeau was stuck with 580 feet of train and no where to put them.

Paradeau has six dining cars being temporarily stored in Bayport, one locomotive on blocks at the Stillwater Depot, and another sitting on city property about a block south on it’s former track, between The Lofts and P.D. Pappy’s—and time has run out.

This week the city of Stillwater sent an abatement order to Paradeau saying he has to move the train off of public property, and if he doesn't, the city will.

The city had originally given Paradeau until Dec. 1 to move the train, but the abatement order gives him a few additional days, City Administrator Larry Hansen said. Hansen said it is his understanding that Paradeau will appeal the order at the Dec. 4 Stillwater City Council meeting.

Last month Paradeau told Stillwater Patch he was aware of the Dec. 1 deadline; and he could have a plan in place to move the train back to his property, but it was very costly.

“He’s had five months,” Hansen said. “I’ve been telling him for three months now that I don’t want to see a plan to move the trains on Dec. 1, I want it gone. I will not recommend that the City Council accept his appeal. He’s had plenty of time.”

If the train is not removed, Hansen said it will be considered abandoned property and will be removed with the cost special assessed to Paradeau.

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 “It is a nightmare.”

Those are the four words that David Paradeau uses to best describe the complicated details of moving, storing and trying to sell 580 feet of dinner train cars.

Last summer, Paradeau started the huge operation of moving six dining cars and two locomotives from their home at the Stillwater Depot on north Main Street to make way for the Brown’s Creek Trail.

Crews brought in cranes, hoisted the cars on flatbed trailers and moved them down Main Street to Andersen Corp. in Bayport.

Halfway through the move, two potential buyers of the dinner train fell through, Paradeau said, and the move stalled with the train sitting on city property.

Moving the train off of city property isn’t a problem, Paradeau said last month. Moving the locomotive one block—back onto his property—would cost about $10,000.

“I have about four things possibly happening,” he said, “but it’s very expensive and I don’t want to move it twice.”

The thing is, Andersen Corp. wants Paradeau’s six dinner cars off of their property, too.

Andersen agreed to store the trains for a short period of time between moving them from Stillwater to the next stop for the dinner train, Laurie Bauer, a spokesperson for Andersen told the Pioneer Press.

"Unfortunately, things have not happened as quickly as planned," Bauer said. "We are working with Mr. Paradeau to remove the train from our property to ensure it doesn't impact our business."

“It’s Complicated.”

Paradeau said he has been agonizing about what to do with the trains.

“It’s not about just moving a train,” he said. “It’s complicated.”

Those complications, Paradeau said, range from the logistics of moving 580 feet or train—and a lack of available space along active railroad lines to store them—to limited sales opportunities due to the current economic conditions and uncertain political climate.

“Unless you own your own railroad,” Paradeau said, “you aren’t going to be able to operate a dinner train.”

When Paradeau operated the Minnesota Zephyr he owned the railroad tracks. Today, he says, there are very limited opportunities to purchase a private railroad line in a location that is marketable to a large population.

“A dinner train can’t function without a base population,” Paradeau said of the struggle to sell the dinner trains. “I was concerned about that when I started this in Stillwater, but it worked. I was able to market it to millions of people in the metro.

Another issue is that main line railroads would never accept a dinner train on their rails, Paradeau said. It would disrupt their business and bring forth insurance issues.

Security is another issue.

“You can’t put a train like the Zephyr in an unsecure area,” Paradeau said. “If left alone, the trains would be vandalized and stripped for copper and other valuable metals.”

Without an impending sale, Paradeau said he can’t commit to a timeframe for how long he’ll store the trains at one spot.

“I’ve been trying to sell these trains for three years,” he said. “Storage space is expensive.”

Randy Marsh November 28, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Tough titties.
Alex Mundy November 28, 2012 at 01:58 PM
I would think the $4.25 million from the DNR would ease his pain and help pay for moving and storing his train.
Fred Harve7 November 28, 2012 at 03:04 PM
I find it interesting that when the train brought people in the city they wanted to work with Paradeau. Praise him.... when he sold the city the land and all the tracks that went through the city, NOW kick him while he's down. Don't you think he is trying to move them??? He brought alot of revenue to the city with the dinner train...give the guy a break.
Amanda November 28, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Why do we always insist, there is only one way to see a story, either the city is right or David is right, neither is. Each party could have done things better, communicated better, laid out a more well thought out plans that was were flexible (he got 4.25 million, do you know what his expenses are? so thoughts in regards to his money is not relative, it's his money, if the city has to move the trains he will pay for it) The situation is what it is and we have to move forward, stop complaining about how and why it happened, pinning each other against one another that is not how you build an effective community. If you believe everything happens for a reason then let it be. Why do we have to make him feels worse about a situation that I am sure he is already not feeling great about, I am sure he likes the drama and his heart sinking into his stomach, it is like a rollercoast, fun. I don't him at all and just think we as Stillwater are supportive than this to are fellow community members. We will have more battles with businesses to deal with when the bridge is built, we cannot do that if there is only one answer, or on way.
Randy Marsh November 28, 2012 at 04:42 PM
I think we can all agree that this guy's biggest problem is that his name isn't Dickie Anderson.
limeex2 November 28, 2012 at 07:30 PM
When I left my unlicensed car on the street overnight, in front of my house, it was towed. Amanda and randy, I agree with you both. Work something out. On the other hand, if this was Dickies deal, I am sure it would be fine to leave it. Heck they might even let him move it to the levee and build a restaurant.
Susan November 28, 2012 at 07:43 PM
If the playing field were equal for all citizens in this town, you might have a point. Our council favors certain citizens and businesses and throws others under the bus. Small town politics, a mayor with an over-developed sense of importance, and a council that spends on pet projects like the checkbook is bottomless (during a recession no-less) breeds discontent in it's citizens. If you want citizens to stop fighting each other then start with the council and get them to understand that citizens should be treated with the same respect as businesses, and that actually listening to ALL their constituents will make a happier town.
Boyd Walker November 29, 2012 at 01:33 AM
I'll buy it for $100 and scrap it. I only live 2 miles away.
Boyd Walker November 29, 2012 at 01:39 AM
The owner of the Zephyr train needs to tell everyone the whole story of why it sits there. From what I have heard the company moving the train underestimated the weight of the cars and engines and skipped town before the job was done. There might not have been a performance bond setup between the owner and the mover,,,, and that's what put the Zephyr owner stuck in a corner.
HHF34 November 30, 2012 at 06:54 AM
Sure, he may have gotten $4.2Million from the DNR, but one has to remember that 50% or more was given back to the state/feds in the form of various taxes... Then as others have mentioned, the expenses... That said, he needs to come to the conclusion that his best bet might be to purchase land and simply move the trains there putting them on blocks in a secure area even if it's not necessarily on tracks and build the cost into any sale of the additional moving...
Alex Mundy November 30, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Whether it's $4.2 million or $2.1 million minus expenses, the point is that the guy isn't destitute and has the means to take care of the situation. He decided to shut down his business and sell. Just as you need to have a plan in place when you're running a business, you need to have a plan in place when your business comes to an end. The past history of his business and what kind of revenue it once brought in isn't relevant at this point and shouldn't buy him any special favors with the city.
Shawn Hogendorf November 30, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Mr. Paradeau told the Pioneer Press he plans on having the locomotives scrapped, but said he needs a 35-day extension from the abatement order to get a salvage company on board. As for the city demanding the move, Paradeau said: "It's unacceptable. After all I've done for the city in 24 years -- bringing over 1.2 million people to Stillwater, spending $300,000 on advertising, putting Stillwater on the map. ... The city is going to suggest that they can't wait 35 more days. That's ridiculous." Should be an interesting meeting on Tuesday.
Alex Mundy November 30, 2012 at 03:51 PM
I guess Mr. Paradeau never made a dime on those 1.2 million people that rode his overpriced dinner train. Having taken that agonizing slow-speed trip myself, I know that it doesn't allow for a lot of time to do shopping in town. As for the $300,000 spent on advertising, I imagine that all went to media outlets outside of Stillwater. And there's a plaque on Main Street that denotes Stillwater as Minnesota's first city. So it's been on the map for awhile before the Zephyr blew in and out of town.
paul berger December 02, 2012 at 01:24 AM
Thats pretty pompus to say you put stillwater on the map dude.
Scott in Wisconsin December 02, 2012 at 01:35 AM
line the train from Pappy's to the Lumber Baron's, tip it on its side and bury it. No more train and instant levy, problem solved
Irving December 06, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Put the cars on a barge and reactivate the kitchens. Sell seats on the floating dinner train on it's very slow journey to a new entertainment installation somewhere along the ocean coast. I'd be happy to pay some pretty serious money to go through at least one set of locks on the Mississippi on a dinner train. (Tongue in cheek, though it does seem there should be some more creative solution than the few I'm aware of)

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