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Developer dropped from Central Terminal project says he was 'blindsided'

The Central Terminal Restoration Corp. announced Friday that it has severed negotiations with designated developer Harry Stinson, and it will now undertake a comprehensive reuse study in June.

The announcement put a sudden end to Canadian developer Harry Stinson's bid to redevelop the Central Terminal into an office, hotel and entertainment complex, with hundreds of new housing units on the property.

[Gallery: Inside Buffalo's Central Terminal, an art deco marvel in decay]

Stinson was seeking a second six-month extension as designated developer. His current option expires May 24. The developer and members of the Central Terminal told The Buffalo News in April that both sides were nearing an agreement.

"We would like to thank Harry Stinson and his team for the work they put in over the last 12 months, and the passion they have for the Central Terminal," said Jim Hycner, the group's chairman.

"We feel at this time that it's in the best interest of the building, our members and volunteers and our East Side neighbors to pursue a different direction for the ultimate redevelopment of the Central Terminal."

Stinson said he was dumbfounded by the abruptly announced decision.

"We – and I include all the members of the team – were totally blindsided," Stinson said. "As recently as this morning, there were phone conversations with CTRC without even an inkling that this was going to happen."

Stinson said it was just several weeks ago that the restoration group wrote a letter saying they had reached an agreement, with no insurmountable issues in the way.

"I heard about this from a press release," Stinson said. "I was responding to media calls before I even knew what had happened. It was a questionable way of doing business.

"This turn of events is quite astonishing."

Stinson said he thought all of the attention on the Central Terminal during the train station debate may have influenced the board's decision.

"I think it's political," Stinson said. "I think our proposal was viewed as disposable for other reasons. And now their solution is a study."

Last month, the Central Terminal was not selected as a site for a new train station. But numerous politicians pledged to find a solution that would revitalize the 1929 art deco landmark, which was the city's train station from 1929 to 1979.

The Urban Land Institute – the world's largest group of real estate and land use experts – has in recent years played a prominent role in reimagining uses for the Richardson Olmsted Complex, the old Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital, One Seneca Tower and Artspace Buffalo Lofts.

Train station snub may be blessing in disguise for Central Terminal

Buffalo businessman Howard Zemsky, who heads Empire State Development, previously served on the Richardson Center Corp. board and played a key role in bringing the institute to Buffalo to study the H.H. Richardson Complex. The Hotel Henry opened at the complex this week, the kind of development the institute recommended.

"I take my hat off to the Central Terminal Board for changing gears and beginning a planning process with the Urban Land Institute," Zemsky said. "It’s an important step in the journey ahead toward adaptive reuse of the terminal. We have obviously seen this work successfully at Richardson.

"Having a broad-based community planning process which results in a consensus going forward plan is an important step to raising funds from individuals, foundations and government."

The comprehensive study is being fast-tracked, with completion by June 30. The process includes a panel of experts who will be in Buffalo for a week to conduct interviews and make a concluding presentation.

Zemsky said New York State and the City of Buffalo will split the $100,000 cost. A $35,000 grant in the institute's possession lowered the initial cost.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who pushed for the train station at the Central Terminal, said in a statement that bringing in the Urban Land Institute was "fantastic news," noting its "great record of accomplishment in Western New York and around the world."

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