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Editorial: Developing DL&W terminal requires layers of government to work together

The old DL&W railroad terminal, it seems, may soon be ready for its close-up. With both federal and state officials interested in redeveloping the station and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority laying plans, it’s possible this valuable, underused structure will be put to profitable use.

How soon that could happen will depend upon a number of factors, from the availability of money to the public’s level of interest. But given Buffalo’s trajectory – which is up – and the level and sources of government interest, the building’s reclamation seems to be on the horizon.

Both Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have taken a keen interest in developing the building, on South Park Avenue behind KeyBank Center, and the NFTA wants to route Metro Rail traffic onto the ground floor of the complex, with shops and other commercial development on the second floor. That’s momentum.

Higgins has been pushing for development of the terminal for several years. Last week, he expressed interest in linking the terminal’s development to the infrastructure improvement plans being considered by President-elect Donald Trump. The potential is for a $1 trillion program that could provide the funding source for the NFTA’s plan to extend Metro Rail into the historic terminal.

Meanwhile, Cuomo has put up money to help redevelop the building. The state budget adopted in the spring included $91 million for transportation projects in Buffalo, including renovating the DL&W terminal.

These are hopeful signs for the structure whose potential is significant but that has been limited by lack of money, interest and traffic. All of those factors are changing.

It begins with traffic. The Buffalo waterfront, once stagnant and barren, thrums with activity today. The events at Canalside, HarborCenter and, of course, KeyBank Center are destinations for thousands of people.

People – sometimes known as “customers” – are the ingredient that sparks development. Without them, money is wasted. Whether there are enough of them yet to justify the expense of extending railroad tracks and renovating the terminal has yet to be established, but it’s clear that Cuomo and Higgins think so. If not immediately, then soon.

The presence of those tens of thousands of people has fueled the interest of stakeholders, including the politicians who can direct money to the DL&W. This project is not being forced; it’s unfolding in a hopeful and logical fashion.

What Buffalo needs now is for those various funding agencies to coordinate with each other. Duplication, misunderstanding and interference won’t help, but with a little bit of effort, governments and agencies can work together to produce something of tremendous value for Buffalo.

Among the ideas are restaurants and shops, and perhaps even a Buffalo version of Boston’s famed Quincy Market. There is plenty of room. The cavernous second floor of the building, which will be 100 years old next year, has been vacant since 1962. The site offers 140,000 square feet of developable space – 80,000 upstairs and 60,000 outside. Floating docks alongside the terminal on the Buffalo River are also possible.

This will take time, yet. That’s good, because even more people may be thronging to the area by then. But a golden opportunity is presenting itself. Everyone needs to work together to make it happen.

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