A Broadway Market gathering Friday was supposed to kick off traditional Easter celebrations at the East Side landmark.
Instead, it laid wide open a growing rift among city leaders over where to locate a new Buffalo rail station, while signaling the start of a bruising mayoral race, to boot.
Mayor Byron W. Brown grimaced a few times during the noontime ceremony as speaker after speaker only briefly mentioned Easter but rallied for a Central Terminal location. He stoically absorbed a barrage of criticism indirectly lobbed his way from politicians addressing crowds gathered in the shadow of the Art Deco terminal, after earlier this week dismissing “nostalgia” as a criterion for the new station.
Rep. Brian Higgins, Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk and Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder – Brown’s opponent in the Democratic primary in September – all made passionate pleas for returning rail passenger service to the station that served the city from 1929 to 1979.
And, while Brown emphasizes that he has adopted no official position as head of a study committee on the train station matter appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the politicians sharing the Broadway Market dais served as a sharp contrast.
“We need a train station right here on the East Side of Buffalo,” Franczyk declared. “Emotion means passion. You cannot make a great decision without passion.”
Schroeder may have taken the day’s most concrete steps in favor of the Central Terminal as he launches a campaign he says will concentrate on neighborhoods ignored in favor of downtown development.
The comptroller asked the crowd if they knew of a train station in the area, prompting thunderous applause of approval.
Later, he told The Buffalo News the issue will prove central to his campaign, and called for a new engineering consultant to study locations. He claimed WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff is “either incompetent, or they are helping to rig this decision.”
“Whichever the case may be, it is unacceptable and they should be removed from this process,” he said.
“I have no confidence in the current consultant’s ability to present objective and accurate findings,” he added. “The naysayers will claim it is too difficult, that it will take too long. I say it’s time to stop taking the easy way out. As mayor, I’ll tackle the tough challenges – including the Central Terminal.”
Franczyk voiced the same argument, even though the consultant study showed a downtown location costing about half as much as Central Terminal.
Indeed, downtown advocates say burgeoning development near the current Exchange Street station will present a far more positive first impression than the decay around Central Terminal. They also point to easy connections to a Metro Rail system that planners hope to someday extend to the University at Buffalo’s North Campus.
And downtown’s champions say their choice will simply cost less.
But Franczyk was looking beyond cost on Friday as he also dismissed the consultant’s report.
“I say they’re wrong a lot of the time,” Franczyk said. “If they’re skewing this against Central Terminal, as many people believe, then this is wrong.”
He then said he did not believe other locations provided multi-modal facilities for buses, and that “passion” should be part of the plan.
“This East Side is coming into its own,” he said to applause, referring to a “magnificent location whose time has now come again.”
Higgins then mounted the dais after exchanging cordial greetings with the mayor, and continued to advocate for Central Terminal. He reiterated that the study ignored the terminal’s eligibility for significant federal tax credits.
“This is a community worth investing in,” he said. “I am confident that working together as a community we can restore that building to its architectural and historical grandeur.”
The mayor never mentioned Central Terminal in his remarks, though he called attention to the $1.7 million in city assistance devoted to the Broadway Market. Wi-Fi will soon be installed at the facility, he said, while pointing to a new Buffalo Police Department substation at the market that will feature at least 30 officers working there every day.
Speaking later to The News, the mayor noted that his charge from the governor is to research the situation and develop the data needed to make an informed decision. He said he is not feeling any “heat” over the issue, insisting facts will drive his ultimate recommendation.
“I’m not looking at this as a political issue,” he said. “I’m looking at it as a charge to make the most informed decision about where a new train station in the City of Buffalo should be located.
“Others are doing what they think is best,” he added. “But my responsibility as the chair of this committee is to do what is right.”
Late Friday, the state Department of Transportation issued a vote of confidence for its consultant, calling it “a world-renowned engineering consulting firm that has worked on more than 500 DOT projects over the last several decades.”
“In every instance, the firm’s integrity, objectivity, and professionalism have been above reproach,” said DOT spokeswoman Tiffany Portzer, “and we have full confidence in WSP PB’s ability to fairly, objectively, and accurately complete this study and provide the best possible option for the train station committee and the residents of Western New York.”
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