PLANT CITY Railroad buffs and others who like to watch trains go by have a new destination: historic downtown Plant City.
A two-story train viewing platform opened Saturday just feet from the railroad tracks that crisscross downtown. The observation deck is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The red brick building mimics the architectural style of the city’s century-old train depot at 102 N. Palmer St. The platform is across a set of tracks from the depot.
“You would think they were built at the same time,” said City Commissioner Mike Sparkman, who helped spearhead the project. “It looks beautiful.”
Some work continues at the platform, including an elevator to the second floor that should be operational in a few days.
The train viewing platform is part of an ongoing effort by the city and business owners to attract tourists with an interest in trains and their history.
Last month, an old caboose and railroad engine were placed on permanent display in front of the depot, which closed as a train station decades ago. The caboose and engine were donated by Plant City native and retired railroad engineer R.W. “Bob” Willaford.
Willaford also donated railroad equipment such as a freight house scale that will be displayed inside the depot, which is being renamed in his honor. The work inside the depot will wrap up in January.
A “railroad rally” is planned Feb. 8 to celebrate the project’s completion, Sparkman said. Details are being worked out for the festivities.
The platform dedicated Saturday cost about $210,000, all paid for by donations. Several business owners donated their services, including Benito “Benny” Lubrano Jr. of Lubrano Designs, who drew up the plans and will be honored with a plaque at the platform.
Other companies and vendors that donated services included RasDaniel Inc.; A.T. Wadi and Jonathan Davis; Dixon Drafting and Design - Mike Dixon; EGI Inc.- William H. Roberts P.E.; Wetherington Tractor Service; Kimball Wetherington; Sunbelt Equipment Rental; Gary Pike, electrical supplies; Plant City Garden Club; and Boone’s Nursery.
Major financial contributors included City Commissioner Rick and Di Lott and family, $50,000; CSX Transportation, $35,000; City Commissioner Mike and Diane Sparkman and family and Bill and Diane Morrow and family, $25,000; Unity in the Community and the Florida Strawberry Festival, $10,000; Jim Scott - Jarrett-Scott Ford, Steve Hurley - Stingray Chevrolet, Plant City Lions Club and Plant City Noon Rotary Club, $5,000; Plant City Daybreak Rotary Club, CF Industries and Verner Foundation, $2,000; and H.B. Plant Historical Society, in memory of Edward Hill, Railroad Industrial Federal Credit Union, Pat and Darcy Stottlemyer, George and Cassandra Banning, Assistant City Manager Bill McDaniel, Eddie and Marlena Richter, and R.W. “Bob” and Felice Willaford, $1,000.