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Attention turns to Central Terminal's grounds as a way to build momentum

Attention turns to Central Terminal's grounds as a way to build momentum

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Central Terminal

Activating the grounds at the Central Terminal is seen as a way to increase community involvement and make it an event destination.

Making the Central Terminal grounds more welcoming and attracting year-round events are among the strategies being pursued at the historic former train station.

The Central Terminal Restoration Corp., the not-for-profit owner, will conduct its third and final public meeting at 6 p.m. today. The meeting comes in advance of a master plan expected to be released in May amid considerable public interest in the art deco landmark, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

"There are 40 years of pent-up passion for the terminal," said Monica Pellegrino Faix, the organization's executive director.

The last Amtrak train left the Central Terminal in 1979.

Some of the outdoor ideas are intended to be wish list items that allow people to reimagine what the site could be, Pellegrino Faix said.

The Central Terminal in Buffalo is starting the first of its repair work on the historic East Side complex, in preparation for long-term plans to create a year-round event venue. The Central Terminal Restoration Corp. is embarking on initial but critical repairs to the enormous former train station at 495 Paderewski Drive, focusing at first on replacing nearly all

The easiest change would be opening the site for recreational activities.

One idea would turn the upper parking deck into outside event space. Another idea would build terraced steps to connect the lower grounds to the upper deck.

Having Paderewski Drive, which leads to the Central Terminal, tunnel into the site's expansive underground parking is also an idea that has drawn favor.

"All of the outside things are connected to make the building’s reuse more appealing," Pellegrino Faix said. "We wanted to be aspirational and get a lot of excitement and momentum."

Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood residents at public meetings and in focus groups have expressed a strong desire to see the Central Terminal be a centerpiece for programming, neighborhood gatherings and activity, said Ujijji Davis Williams, a consultant with Smith Group, based in Detroit.

The person who helped guide the comeback of the Richardson Olmsted Campus will try to do the same with the Central Terminal. Monica Pellegrino Faix has been named executive director of the Central Terminal Restoration Corp., where she will put urban planning, a keen interest in historic preservation and experience in large-scale redevelopment to work on behalf of the

"One of the pushes is to really make it into a flexible space that can accommodate all the different uses that have been identified by Broadway-Fillmore residents," she said.

Those uses include an international food festival, places for kids to engage with habitat, making it a place for seniors to go and musical events, including performances. 

Pellegrino Faix said the community input is helping provide a framework for discussions with developers in the future. 

"We will most likely not be the developer," she said. "That only comes if somebody gives you a ton of money. That happened at the Richardson Olmsted Campus, but that was a very unusual circumstance."

The state gave $76.5 million in the early 2000s to the Richardson Center Corp., a not-for-profit for which Pellegrino Faix served as executive director. 

She said her organization and Douglas Jemal, a developer interested in reviving the Central Terminal, plan on discussing his interest after the master plan is complete.

"You want to have a direction, but not get so tight that you could constrain a developer," Pellegrino Faix said. "We want to be able to move with the economics of the times."

Public funds may be needed first to get the buildings  in need of tens of millions of dollars of work, according to some estimates  ready for a private developer.

Potential uses for different parts of the concourse and for the other buildings are being studied, Pellegrino Faix said.

"The concourse is our shining star and it could be an amazing event venue, but it could also be something beyond that," she said.

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

The tower building was once office space and might be best suited for hospitality or businesses, she added.

The baggage building is being considered for light industrial needs, maybe film production. 

"I think really the most interesting is the baggage building because it has large open floor plates," Pellegrino Faix said.

There is also an emphasis on creating workforce and entrepreneurial opportunities, both inside and outside the building.

In the meantime, Pellegrino Faix said work will be done to bring activities to the grounds, solicit funds and seek a developer, with the master plan adopted with community input as a guide.

"They’re preferred ideas and they give us a framework – a direction that allows us a path forward along with some flexibility," she said.

For more information about the 6 p.m. Zoom event tonight, go to buffaloterminalplan.org.

Mark Sommer covers preservation, development, the waterfront, culture and more. He's also a former arts editor at The News. 

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