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Developer sought for Central Terminal: 'This is the right time'

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The Central Terminal Restoration Corp. has notified developers that the former 1929 art deco train station is available for development.

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If all goes as planned, the Central Terminal – Buffalo's last remaining architectural giant not in use – could have a plan by this time next year and a developer to pursue it. 

The Central Terminal Restoration Corp., along with the City of Buffalo, notified developers Tuesday that the former 1929 art deco train station, located in the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood, is available for development.

The announcement has been expected since the not-for-profit released its master plan last August for the property. The decision follows Gov. Kathy Hochul's June announcement that $61 million in state and philanthropic funds will be used to refurbish the Central Terminal's grand concourse, the exterior of the 17-story tower building and the grounds.

The Central Terminal – Buffalo's last major architectural jewel still to be restored – will benefit from the biggest investment toward its revival since the last Amtrak train left the 17-story art deco station in 1979. Gov. Kathy Hochul said that $61 million will be spent on the grand concourse, the exterior of the tower building and the grounds.

"We are looking for a development partner to reimagine the majestic historic landmark as a lasting cultural and economic hub of activity – a beacon and a destination that attracts people and investment," said Monica Pellegrino Faix, executive director of the Central Terminal Restoration Corp.

"Some developers have reached out, and we have a consultant team supporting us with this endeavor," Faix said. "They've had conversations with developers as well, so we know there is a lot of interest."

Developer Douglas Jemal, who is redeveloping the former Statler Hotel, the former Hotel Henry at the Richardson Olmsted Campus and several other major projects in the city, has also expressed interest.

"I think it's one of the top 10 coolest buildings in the world," Jemal told The News in March 2021. "It's phenomenal. I would love to do that one. That one is the coup de grace."

Mayor Byron Brown said his administration will make "major infrastructure investments" to improve the Central Terminal's nearby streetscape. The city will use federal infrastructure dollars to add to the State of New York's $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative awarded to Broadway-Fillmore for neighborhood revitalization. Some of that funding is also going to the Central Terminal.

"This is the right time to reimagine the Central Terminal campus, given the current momentum of planning and investment to revitalize the Broadway Fillmore corridor into a vibrant neighborhood where the next generation of Buffalo residents will want to live, work and raise families," Brown said.

The infrastructure improvements include upgrades to Paderewski Drive outside the terminal.   

Respondents to the developer solicitation must submit proposals by Sept. 30. Finalists will be chosen in November and asked to submit a formal request for proposals, leading to the selection of a developer by mid-2023, Faix said.

The train station, with a brick exterior and limestone trim designed by Alfred T. Fellheimer and Steward Wagner, opened four months before the Great Depression. After a peak of over 200 trains and 10,000 passengers daily, the automobile, interstate highway system and then air travel led to its decline in service. 

The last Amtrak train left the station in 1979. 

The Central Terminal Restoration Corp. will remain owner of the property and offer a long-term lease or joint partnership. The nonprofit in 1997 acquired the abandoned property, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and has made its revival its mission.

"We tried to lay out in the plan a broad framework for developers to respond to, but at the same time give them creative autonomy to bring their ideas to the table, married with the master plan," Faix said.

The community-infused master plan imagined the Central Terminal as a hub of activity with a mix of uses and a connection to the future of the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood. That includes the Broadway Market, which is receiving $37 million to create an international market, part of $225 million in East Side investments Hochul announced in the spring.

The master plan also called for community events and activities on the grounds.

There are three property owners at the Central Terminal: 

  • The Central Terminal Restoration Corp., which has 12.5 acres, owns three buildings. There is also a one-level above-grade parking garage with 18-foot ceilings that holds 300 cars. The tower building is envisioned in the master plan as potential office space or high-rise residential, with some floors as a possible boutique hotel. The passenger concourse, the plan suggested, could be used for a cultural center, film production or as a community and nonprofit anchor. The former Mail & Baggage Building, with double height ceilings and numerous loading docks  on the first floor, could be used for housing, the plan suggested, or as an innovation hub with small-business offices, light manufacturing and workforce training. Three floors of live/work space and rooftop agriculture were also suggested.
  • The City of Buffalo, which has 16 acres, owns the former three-story brick U.S. Terminal Railway Post Office Building and the two-story Railway Express Building, both suggested for light manufacturing and industrial workforce training. 
  • The remaining 33 acres of land at the Central Terminal are owned by Amtrak and the tracks by CSX, and are not available for development.

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

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