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Schroeder backs Central Terminal for new train station

Add mayoral candidate and city Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder's name to the list of Buffalo officials who favor locating a new train station at the Central Terminal, a list that also includes Council President Darius G. Pridgen and Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk – and the rest of the Council, as well.

And cost estimates released at a public meeting earlier this week – which show the price tag for a Central Terminal station could be as much as double the cost of a downtown location – don't seem to be changing any of their minds.

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

Not on the list so far is Mayor Byron W. Brown, Schroeder's Democratic primary opponent. As chairman of a site selection committee appointed by the governor, Brown has remained neutral pending the committee's report next month, even though some Central Terminal backers suspect the committee already has decided on a downtown site.

Schroeder and city officials who support the Central Terminal say reinventing the East Side icon as a modern-day transportation center would give the Broadway-Fillmore area an opportunity to rebound, just as Canalside has done for downtown. The Old First Ward, Schroeder noted, has seen an infusion of $100 million from the Seneca Nation and entrepreneurs. In addition, Larkinville has been given new life, creating "a little city of its own" that has been helpful to the whole neighborhood, he said.

Now it’s time for the Central Terminal’s Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood to get similar attention, Schroeder said from his 12th floor City Hall office before the cost estimates came out.

After consultants hired by the state pegged the cost of putting a new station at the East Side landmark at between $68 million and $149 million, compared to between $34 million and $86 million for a station downtown, the comptroller was undeterred. He says money does matter and he'll wait for final cost figures to make a final decision. But what he's heard so far hasn't changed his mind.

"I’ll reserve a final decision until I see a final report from the committee … of the pros and cons and cost analysis," Schroeder said.

Cost estimates favor downtown train station over Central Terminal

Price notwithstanding, Schroeder cited various reasons for locating the new train station at the Central Terminal. In addition to it being a "beautiful art deco building," its 17 stories provide plenty of room for retail space and residential quarters. And its proximity to downtown is another advantage, Schroeder said.

"It’s 2.5 miles from downtown. That’s not a problem," he said. "It’s a perfect place because there are so many things you can do there. Let’s think big and maybe give the East Side the opportunity."

On the other hand, Schroeder added, parking issues and traffic congestion – especially for Sabres and Bisons games as well as other events – are clear disadvantages associated with downtown, either at Canalside or near the current Amtrak station. Then there’s the idea of placing a tax exempt train station downtown. That would take a "big chunk" of land off the tax rolls, he said.

Schroeder anticipates that, given the support Rep. Brian Higgins and Sen. Charles E. Schumer have expressed for a new train station, they will be able to come up with some federal funding. Higgins has been a strong backer of the Central Terminal, which he said also could include a new NFTA bus terminal, while Schumer has not taken sides in the battle.

Pridgen and Franczyk also continue to like the Central Terminal site, despite the higher price tag associated with it.

"The recent cost estimates don't give enough of a snapshot for me to make a decision," Pridgen said. But unless the final figures to put the station at Central Terminal are totally cost-prohibitive, Pridgen said he will work to find money.

"Where there’s a will, there’s a way," Pridgen said. "But eventually we’re going to have to find something to do with the Central Terminal. It’s the same type of problem that we had with the Statler. Will the city demolish it or will the city find a use for it or someone who could renovate the Statler? And of course there had to be some government incentives and money for the Statler to work, and I fully supported that as I would fully support finding money to renovate and restore the Central Terminal."

Franczyk, whose district contains the landmark, pointed out that the $68 million projected as the lower end of the estimates for the Central Terminal is still less than the high-end estimate of $86 million to put the station downtown. And he said he has spoken with architects who say they can renovate the tunnels, tracks and platform for much less than $149 million.

Central Terminal vs. Canalside: Where to put a new Buffalo train station?

The rest of the building – concourse, tower and office space – could be redeveloped in phases through private investments and tax credits. Toronto developer Harry Stinson, for instance, is seeking to redevelop the Central Terminal with hundreds of residential units, and office and event space

"It can’t be done all at once," Franczyk said. "You don't have to renovate the whole building because it's a station within a station. There needs to be a little bit more faith and imagination as to what we can do."

A 17-member committee appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and chaired by Brown is analyzing information to help it decide whether the Central Terminal or downtown is best. The panel’s decision is expected next month.

The mayor has said he wouldn’t take a position on the location at this point and will remain "completely objective" until all the facts are presented in the study of the potential sites. Some of the factors he said are being considered include cost, the length of time to replace the old station, the potential for multi-modal uses, the user experience and the potential for economic development and developing a critical mass.

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