Thousands of people, including neighborhood residents and those who left decades ago, crowded the Central Terminal Saturday for the first East Side Festival.
The seven-hour event gave visitors a chance to see what has been done to save the gigantic former train station – and how much more needs to be done.
A series of musical performances highlighted the festival, sponsored by the Central Terminal Restoration Corp., Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Diversity Council and State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy.
The lineup ranged from an African drum ensemble to Polish dancers, in hopes of showcasing the music of the East Side's ethnic groups, past and present.
A BPO performance brought the festival to a crescendo Saturday night.
"It's amazing. A lot of people came out," said Muhammad Z. Zaman, a Buffalo artist. "Of course [the terminal] has a future. It's a beautiful place. Hopefully they fix it someday."
"Things like this help, just putting it to use," added East Side native Ed Jaworski.
"This is a much bigger crowd than I expected and the organizers expected. It's tremendous," said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who was passing out reusable shopping bags.
In fact, the crowd might have been too big for the hourly tours that were part of the program.
"We were actually disappointed because we were looking forward to the tour, but because of the crowd of people coming through the concourse, the tour was a wash. You can't hear anything," said Ralph Leskiw of Hamburg, who grew up on the East Side.
Edward Blackwell of Cheektowaga, also an East Side native, said he attends the monthly jazz concerts at the terminal, but has never seen a crowd like he did on Saturday.
"It's diverse ethnically and age-wise," he said.
"Of course it needs more work," said Donna Casey, of Cheektowaga, "but from my memory of being here over five years ago, it looks like there has been some improvement.
"I'm delighted to see the number of people here," she said, "and I look forward to next year."
City resident Barbara Kwiecinski remembered using the terminal decades ago to take a train to Florida.
"Western New York has lots of train tracks, and I think we missed the boat when we didn't utilize those train tracks for rapid transit into the city from Orchard Park, East Aurora, places like that," she said.
Poloncarz said the terminal will not be demolished, "but in the long run, we've got to figure out what we're going to do with it."
"People are willing to come down here and have a good time," the county executive said, "so that tells me that people would be willing to come here more often if it were to be utilized on a daily basis for events or arts and cultural institutions."