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Developer’s plan offers at least a hope of repurposing the Central Terminal

The latest word on the Central Terminal is that a Canadian developer has interest in transforming the mammoth structure into housing and a variety of other artful uses.

Let’s hope the developer, Harry Stinson, is successful. The Central Terminal’s productive reuse would make a major success for a reviving city. The terminal is one of the cornerstones of the City of Buffalo’s history and has remained perhaps the largest challenge to restoration and repurposing. That work has mainly occurred downtown, although nearby East Side neighbor Larkinville has become its own business and residential hub.

Then there is the 1929 building that may be a mystery to many Buffalonians unless they have taken advantage of one of the Forgotten Buffalo tours. The building and 523,000-square-foot complex, the equivalent of nine football fields, loom amid abandoned houses in a poor neighborhood and a couple of miles from a rebounding downtown. Tireless effort by the Central Terminal Restoration Corp., the not-for-profit that owns the complex, has kept it on the radar and developers have opined about the vast possibilities.

“I see this as an expansion of Larkinville,” said Stinson, whose business record includes the conversion of industrial buildings into condominiums in Toronto. It’s an apt analogy, even if the challenges of restoring the terminal and reviving a neighborhood are even more challenging than the magic that Buffalo developer Howard Zemsky worked at Larkinville.

During its heyday, starting in 1929, the terminal was a robust ground transportation hub. Trains left and arrived by the hour. The “station” was packed. Traffic dwindled as modern transportation options picked up speed. The last train left 36 years ago.

Stinson is considering residences in the former train station’s 16-story tower building, plus a mix of commercial, office, entertainment and dining. Picture the top 12 floors of the tower building above the grand concourse and mezzanine as loft-style housing. And then imagine looking out over the city and Lake Erie.

Stinson is also agreeable to restoring train service to the building. These are big ideas that would require plenty of money. Think stabilization and restoration and the estimated cost is somewhere around $70 million.

The developer signed a six-month letter of intent in November, which allows time to consider the enormity of the task. And there is the possibility of an optional six-month extension, but both sides must agree.

Bear in mind that the same company signed a similar letter a few years ago, which resulted in nothing being done. There is reason to believe that Stinson has learned more about what is involved. The vice chairman of the nonprofit corporation noted that the developer remains respectful toward the building and the group’s efforts. Moreover, there is an understanding of what the project can mean to the neighborhood and city.

The Central Terminal has been waiting for the right idea and the financial backing to make it happen.

Time will tell if this is the beginning of a turnaround for the long-vacant complex. The City of Buffalo remains hopeful.