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Another Voice: Central Terminal could symbolize Buffalo's resurgence

By Keith Garner

A few weeks ago I came to Buffalo from Britain for my second tour of the city’s world-renowned architecture. As an architect specializing in historic building conservation, I had particular interest this time in a tour of the Central Terminal.

Having experienced what a wonderful building it is – and its perilous state of preservation – it occurred to me that the Central Terminal should be nominated for inclusion on the World Monuments Fund’s list of the world’s most endangered cultural heritage sites for 2018.  (The deadline for applications is March 1, 2017.)

It’s a competitive process, but inclusion on the list would be a recognition of the building’s importance, elevating the cause of preserving it to a national and international level.
My visit coincided with the mayor’s announcement that there is to be a new site selected for Buffalo’s intercity train station.  I also wanted to make the case for the Central Terminal to Buffalo’s citizens and leadership as this situation presents a crucial opportunity to save an internationally important building while enhancing regional transport as well.

Based on my experience with large reuse projects in London, I know that accessibility is key to a project’s success. I understand that the Central Terminal links several rail lines, including all active intercity routes as well as potential commuter lines to Niagara Falls and the airport. Reactivating the Central Terminal as a train station not only makes sense as an authentic reuse, but would serve a practical purpose.

Once the transport is in place at the Central Terminal, private investment will surely follow. A proven approach to rehabilitating a large complex like the Central Terminal is to kick-start the process by developing a strategically chosen portion of the whole: in this case, the platforms (which Amtrak already owns) and the main concourse, which can be used as a grand civic space. Revenues from events held in the concourse would contribute to maintenance costs. Private development of the tower and outbuildings would build on the initial investment.
The non-profit Central Terminal Restoration Corp. has set out these phases in its master plan, in line with the community’s best interest.

There’s a romance about the Central Terminal that recalls the great railway era of the past. But its strong form and landmark presence can also be a symbol of Buffalo’s resurgence. Entering Fellheimer  and Wagner’s magnificent concourse, travelers would know they had arrived in one of North America’s great cities, in upstate’s answer to New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.

On that point, it might be worth discussing the Central Terminal with Beyer Blinder Belle, the architecture firm responsible for the acclaimed restoration of Grand Central.
I look forward to my next visit. May Buffalo’s citizens have taken the long view, revitalising an irreplaceable treasure for posterity and prosperity.

Keith Garner, a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, is an architect based in London.

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