By Paul L. Battaglia
In 1996, while principal architect at Hamilton Houston Lownie, I directed and authored the “Buffalo Central Terminal Engineering Feasibility Study,” which compared the renovation cost of the deteriorating building to site preparation and construction costs of a conventional replacement of similar area. When renovation proved to be less, the Common Council moved to secure the building from its negligent owner.
I have a strong, emotional tie to the Central Terminal. It is an extraordinary piece of architecture, “the epitome of landmark,” as stated in the study narrative. However, for many reasons, a new Amtrak station does not belong at the Central Terminal.
Current ridership is about 120,000 passengers annually with eight trains per day. Amtrak standards describe the need as a Category 2, medium station, needing an area of about 15,000 square feet, not including platforms. This is only 3 percent of the 450,000 square feet of the Central Terminal.
At this size and scope the station is unable to contribute significantly to the restoration budget. Furthermore, a station without coincident redevelopment and revitalization of the neighborhood would place travelers arriving in the middle of the night into a building that is 97 percent vacant, with no hotels nearby – a shock for many. Our image as a Rust Belt city still lingers and we can’t afford to reinforce that.
We fortunately have a ready alternative. In 1999, I directed and substantially authored the “Downtown Buffalo Strategic Plan,” an essay on the role of downtown Buffalo as the regional center for Western New York. It presented in its conclusion a 17-point action plan for downtown, most importantly identifying the need to promote housing and hotel development. Another strategic point was this: “Plan and construct a new Intermodal Transit Station at the Aud site with a turnaround for the Lakeshore route.”
This envisioned an intercity passenger rail station with connection to local transit including Metro, buses and parking. A turnaround is necessary whenever there are three directions of travel from a station, unless a route terminates at the station or the train reverses direction. Luckily, ample room exists just northwest of the Canalside location to construct a turnaround permitting continuous east/west travel.
The new station should be located at the southwest corner of Main and Lower Terrace. This site is located in a vibrant area undergoing regeneration right now, with two new hotels and restaurants directly adjacent. It is served by an existing Metro station outside the front door on Main Street with public transit links throughout the region. Dedicated, covered parking for Amtrak passengers exists under the Niagara Thruway with space for local buses.
However socially well-meaning and emotionally attached to the Central Terminal we may all be, we should set that aside and complete the strategy for re-establishing downtown Buffalo as the regional center by building the Amtrak station at Canalside.
Paul L. Battaglia is an architect and president of STC Sound Control, and teaches in the University at Buffalo Department of Architecture.