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Canadian developer not ready to quit on Central Terminal project

A New York City company wants to set up a movie, TV and music production and post-production facility at the Central Terminal.

And, ROAR Logistics, run by Bob Rich III, wants to relocate its headquarters there.

But there's a hitch: Both companies are part of the mix of tenants for the Central Terminal that were being assembled by Harry Stinson of Hamilton, Ont. – and his status as designated developer expires on May 24.

The Central Terminal Restoration Corp., the not-for-profit owner, announced May 5 it had ended negotiations despite recent statements suggesting an agreement was near.

Stinson sought to redevelop the former train station into an office, hotel, residential and entertainment complex.

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

On Monday, Stinson – who said he remains frustrated and bewildered by the end to negotiations – and members of his team told The Buffalo News they hope to be given another opportunity.

They revealed the two potential tenants – the New York City-based company, Brickz City Ventures, would also be a partner – as an example of the deals they were working on before learning by text and then press release that yearlong negotiations with the Central Terminal Restoration Corp. had concluded.

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

Entertainment facility

Gail Leibowitz, who heads Brickz City Ventures, said the large art deco landmark is the kind of property she has been looking for to create "an innovation studio."

Leibowitz said a movie, TV and music production and post-production facility, with sound stages and space to build sets, would be the biggest component.

"It's just the perfect place. I couldn't think of a more ideal building and layout," Leibowitz said.

Dorian Forbes, a partner who grew up on the East Side, said the facility would employ people in a range of positions, from production assistants and set builders to costumemakers and sound technicians, with entry-level training.

Leibowitz said she has worked in operations, overseen offices, worked in entertainment and helped build companies. The economics of the entertainment industry make Buffalo, with its 40 percent film tax credit, an attractive place to be, she said.

[Gallery: Faux restoration of the Central Terminal for the film "Marshall"]

"We have reached out to many major players to see their appetite for something like this, and everyone, hands-down, was in," Leibowitz said. "We know we can put the financing together."

"I think it's very important to stress that we want to create a vibrant for-profit industry, but with a very big social impact on a community that certainly could benefit from that," she added.

Forbes said the film industry could give the East Side a needed shot in the arm.

"I'm in L.A. working on a television show, and even here, there's not a lot of places to shoot," Forbes said. "That's why Hollywood is migrating to places like Buffalo."

Stinson, whose father worked in Canada's film industry, said his own deep ties to that industry would be beneficial.

Logistics

Bob Rich III, the president of ROAR Logistics, a Rich products subsidiary, believes in Stinson's vision for the Central Terminal, and his ability to succeed.

"We believe the endeavor he is undertaking is very exciting because it restores a building that holds a very special piece of Western New York history," Rich said. "I would be very interested in locating my logistics company in the Central Terminal once it has been restored.

"I believe Harry has a tremendous vision for this building, and everything I have seen shows me that Harry has the financial backing and the foresight and vision to make this a successful project," Rich said.

A CSX train passes by the old passenger platforms at Buffalo’s Central Terminal. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

Stephen Fitzmaurice, former chief operating officer of One Seneca Tower and one of the Stinson team members, said the logistics company could occupy up to 25,000 square feet initially.

"Bob came to us," Fitzmaurice said. "They love the idea of looking out on the train tracks and seeing trains go by, because that's what they do."

Development team

Doug Swift, a developer who joined the team several months ago, stressed their credentials and how they were put together for the long haul.

"I have come to believe in and trust in Harry and more importantly, the project itself," Swift said. "The team that he has assembled is impressive by anybody's measure, and it's all local and all high-level experts."

Train station snub may be blessing in disguise for Central Terminal

The team also includes architects Carmina Wood Morris; the legal team of Adam Walters of Phillips Lytle and Steven Weiss of Cannon Heyman Weiss; environmental consultants LiRo Engineers; construction management and cost projections experts Waterbourne Construction Advisors; and historic tax credit consultants Cohn Reznick.

"Between the three of us," Swift said, referring to himself, Stinson and Fitzmaurice, "we have owned, developed and managed over 4 million square feet, totaling about $500,000 million of projects in our resumes."

The projects he referred to included the Larkin at Exchange Building, One Seneca Tower and Genesee Gateway in Buffalo, the Candy Factory and One King West in Toronto and the Stinson School in Hamilton.

"We weren't given a chance to do our job, and our job is to do these kind of deals," Swift said.

Stinson noted there were spending benchmarks tied to time frames that was part of the agreement. He said the building would have returned to the not-for-profit through a mortgage mechanism if the benchmarks weren't met.

The Central Terminal's concourse. (News file photo)

Complex deteriorating

Stinson said the pictures of a glowing concourse hide the fact that the complex is rapidly deteriorating. He said there is an urgent need to fix the building.

"In the time I've been aware of this building, it's actually alarming," Stinson said. "If you go past the confines of the concourse, it's falling down, it's decaying, it's molding. Water is coming in, floors are cracking, steel is badly rusting and the ceiling is literally falling in."

Central Terminal gets $250,000 from state for electrical work

Stinson said the baggage building is structurally compromised, and will need significant engineering to stabilize the structure.

"It is at the eleventh hour for a lot of the functional and really usable spaces," Swift added.

The Urban Land Institute is bringing a team of land use experts to the Central Terminal in June to study future uses. That process will be wrapped up by the end of the month.

It's possible the Central Terminal Restoration Corp. will decide afterward to issue another request for proposals from interested developers.

The Central Terminal Restoration Corp. had no further comment Monday evening.

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