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Central Terminal to receive $5 million state grant for concourse, staffing

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday the biggest investment in the Central Terminal since the last train pulled out in 1979.

A $5 million grant from the Buffalo Billion Initiative will be used to restore the historic concourse and professionalize the non-profit trying to ensure the building's future.  The funding follows recommendations made last June by the Urban land Institute for the site's potential reuse.

"We are taking an important step forward in an effort to preserve and revitalize an iconic building that is beloved in Western New York," Cuomo said in a statement.

Because of the grant, it's expected that the concourse will be able to be used as year-round event space. A full-time operational staff will oversee the creation of a master plan and capital improvements, and conduct fundraising and marketing.

"This validates the Central Terminal Restoration Corp., which for two decades has used volunteers in an effort to save and advance the restoration of the Central Terminal," said Paul Lang, vice chairman of the Central Terminal Restoration Corp., which owns the former station.

The Central Terminal was under consideration last year to be the new home of a train station.  A committee assembled by Mayor Byron Brown chose a downtown site instead.

"I thank Gov. Cuomo for making this critical investment in the Central Terminal," Brown said. "This $5 million in funding will help with the restoration of the Terminal's historic concourse and provide the time needed to begin implementing the Urban Land Institute's recommendations.

"Working together, we can restore this architectural icon while also making it an engine for growth in the Broadway-Fillmore community," Brown said.

The renewed attention on the former train station became the impetus for New York State, through Empire State Development, and the City of Buffalo to each give $50,000 to fund the week-long Urban Land Institute.

The institute brings expertise in the real estate field to complex projects, and developed plans in a similar fashion for the Richardson Olmsted Campus, Millard Fillmore Hospital and One Seneca Tower.

The recommendations were offered in June to a mixed reception.

Two of the recommendations called for activating the 1929 art deco station by preparing the concourse for year-round events and staff development, which the money announced Friday will be used for.

Others included creating a master plan and neighborhood plan to guide redevelopment; stabilizing the facility and making it "shovel-ready" for development; and investing in the surrounding community and spurring community engagement.

But many were disappointed that nothing was said about reusing the tower and baggage buildings, or the feasibility of adding a future train stop. Stabilizing the complex -- estimated  in the tens of millions of dollars -- and the long-held goal of restoring the Central Terminal were not prioritized by the institute.

The potential for private development any time soon was also dismissed due to the condition of the surrounding neighborhood.

But supporters were hopeful Friday that this next step would set the course for big things to come for the iconic landmark.

"This is the most significant funding for the Central Terminal since at least the 1970s to get the former station back to its original glory," said State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo.

"It will create an environment where developers will make a significant investment into that aging facility, with the goal of getting it back on line and restored to a level where our community can all be proud of its significance once again," he said.

Plans call for reglazing of the concourse's arched glass windows into their original frames, Lang said.  The waiting area will be made reusable and reopened to the public once again, although restoring the plaster ceiling will have to wait until more funds are found, he said.

Ticket counters will also be restored, and fabricated lights that resemble original fixtures will be introduced in some areas.

The grant builds on a $325,000 state grant last year that was mainly used toward fixing an old restaurant area, including new roll-top windows and concourse-level doors, and putting in heating, ventilation and air conditioning for a 6,000-square-foot area.

There could also be new studies and plans developed.

A comprehensive survey of the building, known as a historic structures report, would determine all of the site's restoration needs with cost estimates. It would update a report from 1996, and an abridged study in 2012. Another study would prioritize exterior masonry needs.

"A couple of years ago the board was probably not prepared to embark on an effort of this magnitude, Lang said. "Due to our growth and maturation, and the support of our stakeholders, we are now in a position to do so."

Lang said with the coming changes the organization's focus remains the same.

"The organization has been focused on preservation and restoration, and that's what we are continuing to do," Lang said.

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