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Hope for Central Terminal; Multiuse proposal creates starting point for reviving our once-grand train station

Repurposing and refashioning old, architectural works of art into modern, usable space has become common practice around here, given the successes of private developers and individuals who have reclaimed the Darwin Martin House and are working on the Richardson Complex. So it is not a far reach to envision a restored Central Terminal put to a variety of uses, though there are obviously no guarantees.

This is exactly what the $75 million plan unveiled recently by the all-volunteer Central Terminal Restoration Corp. wants to see for the future of the 523,000-square-foot art deco tower, concourse and baggage room.

The plan calls for the tower to be designed as market-rate residential space of various degrees, historic elevators and lobbies refurbished to provide uninterrupted access from the parking garage and renovation of the former water tank room at the top of the tower to feature 360-degree views of the city and Western New York.

Additional plans involve everything from turning the baggage building into a green business incubator for small business and light industrial operations to resuming train service by tying into New York State's portion of the high-speed rail system, and connecting with Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority light rail -- if that were expanded.

We share the group's hopes for a massive and magnificent structure on Buffalo's East Side. Although it seems getting this project moving is akin to moving heaven and earth, whatever public-private buy-in is necessary would be well worth the effort. Indeed, what is the acceptable alternative?

There is new hope for the terminal in the welcome attention of Long Island-based developer Uri Kaufman, who seriously eyed the Statler Towers. Kaufman's interest is piqued and that's a good sign, as is the completion of a plan to map the future of the much beloved building.

Still, there are hurdles ahead. While we can stand back and, along with people all over the globe, admire Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House, that project required decades of time, millions of private and public dollars and strong leadership to achieve its glorious results. And the Martin House didn't have to succeed with market-based apartments or retail. Its mission of restoration for tourism was clear.

We believe the terminal's success will depend on two forms of leadership. First of all, public- and private-sector leaders not only have to recognize that the Central Terminal is worth their attention, they also have to act to get the project moving.

That, to a great degree, will depend upon securing the right combination of leadership that can handle such a task, including raising money.

Current volunteers have been toiling without much fanfare but with an admirable ingenuity, bringing increased numbers of tours through the complex and fashioning relationships with the public and politicians. But it's the announcement of a plan and interest by a private developer that hold the most promise.

Repurposing the Central Terminal will have to be taken in small steps and it will be a long and difficult task. But with cooperation, planning and public-private fundraising, the possibility exists that Western New York can wake this sleeping architectural beauty.

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