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Editorial: A gift for Buffalo at the DL&W

Buffalo’s Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad terminal project got a refreshing jolt of good news last week when transit authority commissioners awarded “predevelopment rights” to the Savarino Cos. of Buffalo for redeveloping the second floor.

It has been a long time since advocates of the old DL&W could even dream of revival, but now it may be on the way.

Savarino and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority will work together to transform the 130,000 square feet of space into a downtown attraction. As News political reporter Robert J. McCarthy wrote, the hope is that it “fosters commerce, social gathering, community and a sense of place.”

NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel is charged about the possibility. The enthusiasm should extend to anyone who has ever walked through the cavernous, empty space and tried to imagine its heyday. The terminal has been vacant since the last Erie-Lackawanna passenger train departed in 1962.

Savarino Cos. President Samuel J. Savarino plans a major revival. He lives across the street in redeveloped property at 95 Perry St., so he has the perfect combination of community and self-interest, with the emphasis on the former.

Last Thursday’s action by commissioners starts an initial project. Much work needs to be done over the next 18 months. The Project for Public Space consulting firm is expected to conduct a feasibility study examining how to generate public and commercial activity at the DL&W.

The initial phase is expected to be completed in 2022. At that point, Savarino can extend the agreement another 12 months for a $36,000 fee. The NFTA grants the company exclusive “predevelopment rights” in the space above its Metro Rail Yard and Shops for a range of possible uses. They include a public market, small business incubator, museum, flexible event/gathering space, artist studios, food hall, shared community kitchen or public gardens.

Savarino may even opt to put in pickleball courts for the outdoor “patio” once used by DL&W trains as a station approach. For those who like dining with a view, there could be a waterfront café on 6,500 square feet of first-floor space and floating docks on the adjacent Buffalo River.

It all sounds marvelous, but nothing can be done before the NFTA completes a $20.5 million reconfiguration of track and overhead wires leading to the yard and shops. It is part of a $46 million project mostly funded by New York State. It will mean a new Metro Rail stop on the Buffalo River side of the station, eventual access via stairs, escalators and elevators to the second floor.

Riders curious about that last stop won’t have to wonder for long: The DL&W’s station is expected to be open in 2022.

Getting to this point has not been easy. Just this month, Washington rejected the NFTA’s third funding request, but Minkel said the grant would have covered only about $6 million for amenities that may end up coming from other sources such as new market and historic tax credits, or private foundations. Minkel sounded confident that the project can proceed.

Still in the works is the planned skybridge over South Park Avenue between the terminal and KeyBank Center. It has been stalled because of unanticipated costs associated with a “maze” of underground utilities. Authority planners believe that is a surmountable challenge.

It is notable that only the Savarino Cos. responded to the NFTA’s request for a DL&W proposal. Plainly, many developers retain doubts about the feasibility of the project. Savarino, though, is not worried; his company has even more plans.

It is safe to start feeling optimistic about the old DL&W’s future, but wise to understand that challenges remain.

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