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Canadian developer interested in redeveloping Central Terminal

A Canadian developer wants to redevelop Buffalo Central Terminal into housing and other uses.

Now it remains to be seen if a deal can be struck.

“It’s the most optimistic we have been about reactivating the building,” said Paul Lang, vice chairman of the Central Terminal Restoration Corp., the not-for-profit that owns the complex.

Lang would not identify the developer, but said a six-month letter of intent was signed in November to redevelop the Art Deco marvel and East Side icon. The same company signed a similar letter a few years ago and nothing came of it, Lang said, but now it is developing a new plan.

“While we are cautiously optimistic and encouraged by the interest, we recognize the hurdles and obstacles that will need to be overcome,” Lang said. “There are a lot of areas where a project this size can fail, but we have been encouraged by the developer’s approach and respectful nature toward the building and our efforts. He has also expressed an understanding of what this project can mean to the neighborhood and the city.”

Lang said the developer is contemplating residences in the former train station’s 16-story tower building, and a mix of commercial, office, entertainment and dining in the rest of the 523,000-square-foot complex, a Goliath footprint equal to the size of nine football fields. The top 12 floors of the tower building – above the grand concourse and mezzanine – could offer loft-style housing with expansive views of the city and Lake Erie.

Lang said the developer is also open to restoring train service to the building.

The building needs extensive stabilization and restoration work: The price tag for resurrecting the 1929 building has been put at around $70 million.

The letter of intent gives the company exclusive rights to consider the feasibility of tackling such a large project. An optional six-month extension is possible if both sides agree. Lang said the letter also allows investors to see that the not-for-profit is on board at this stage.

The company was one of two from Canada that responded favorably to a request for proposals issued in the spring. A few local developers also responded, but were more interested in using a portion of the complex, such as the tower or baggage buildings, rather than the whole site.

The Canadian developer’s letter of agreement was not renewed three years ago, Lang said, but he thinks the situation could have a different outcome this time.

“We’re in a much better situation to really advance the project. Last time, the company was a little bit splintered as far as their focus, and they’ve acknowledged they are really focusing on it this time,” Lang said.

The plan then, he said, was to turn the concourse into a winter sports destination, including ice hockey, as well as provide housing.

“RiverWorks and HarborCenter offer that now,” Lang said.

A long and likely complicated process still lies ahead for the property, where Amtrak rode out of the station for the last time 36 years ago. One issue to be resolved is what – if any – role the not-for-profit would continue having.

“We are open to no longer owning the property,” Lang said. “We don’t need to be the exclusive titleholders, but we would like to work ourselves into some position, whether retaining some ownership or a permanent presence in the building’s operation.”

Lang said the developer had indicated he would be open to keeping the organization involved.

Historic easements to protect the Central Terminal’s historic character would be part of any agreement, Lang said.

“We would essentially mandate that any work completed in restoring or developing the building would have to be in accordance with the Department of Interior standards that govern buildings included on the State and National Registers of Historic Places,” Lang said.

The developer has retained a local architectural firm, but no studies, floor plans or renderings have been presented yet, he said.

Rebirth of the Central Terminal would be in alignment with the many changes occurring in Buffalo in recent years. The Central Terminal is the last major historic building in Buffalo that has yet to be at least partially redeveloped or restored.

Lang said there has been growing political support and foundation interest in seeing the Central Terminal revived.

“Developers are showing interest in the East Side – the last frontier if you will – as a result of what is happening in the city. The investment from the state and the city in the Northland factory area – the next stop on the Belt Line for us – demonstrates government as well as political investment in our area,” Lang said.

“It has everyone excited about what 2016 could be.”

The Central Terminal Restoration Corp. also is working on a second track – ongoing restoration and operation – as negotiations continue.

Projects include phase two of a $50,000 roof repair, interior and exterior masonry repairs and work on infrastructure projects, including electrical improvements and solar panel installation.

“We want to open the building with a more aggressive 2016 event and rental schedule,” Lang said.