BUFFALO, NY – A long held dream by some, the possibility of returning passenger service at Buffalo’s landmark, Art Deco Central Terminal train station, has gained the support of U.S Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo).
Passenger trains, which once numbered 200 per day during the 1940’s, ceased using Central Terminal in 1979.
The building became derelict and stripped of many assets, until it was placed into the possession of the not for profit Central Terminal Restoration Corp, which for 20 years has tried to shore up and revitalize the historic structure.
“It certainly is one of the most loved buildings in the city of Buffalo," noted Fillmore District Common Council Member David Franczyk, in whose district the terminal lies.
Franczyk joined Higgins, and Central Terminal Restoration Corp. President Mark A. Lewandowski for a tour of the terminal on Wednesday
“To this day Amtrak still owns the platforms and all the tracks just outside of Central Terminal," said Lewandowski. “I just think it makes sense for another look."
Despite ridership numbers that demonstrate there is no great demand for train travel in Western New York, the state government has earmarked 25 million dollars for a new Buffalo train station.
The question is where.
“This site,deserves every consideration," said Higgins.
But it might be a tough sell.
Central Terminal looms over one of the most challenged neighborhoods in Buffalo. It is some 2-1/2 miles from the hotels and attractions downtown and on the waterfront, where any visitors who might arrive by train might want to stay.
However, both Higgins and Franczyk seem unfazed by that reality, pointing to success stories in other now redeveloped neighborhoods once considered lost, including Larkinville, just one mile due southwest of the terminal.
“15 years ago, nobody envisioned what Larkinville would become,” said Higgins.
"Then there’s Ohio Street, which is also in my district,” said Franczyk. “You’d have never believed to see what's happening,"
"Nobody conceived of anybody living on Ohio Street four years ago,” said Higgins. “Now you have two residential developments under construction today and they're almost filled before they're even finished,"
Central Terminal Restoration Corp. hopes to see a similar success story around its property.
It has already granted preferred development status to Toronto’s Harry Stinson, who envisions building 400 townhouses on land surrounding the terminal, while converting the terminal itself into a mixed use office and retail space.
And according to Lewandowski, having a train station there would in no way derail that.
“Putting Amtrak back into this building or adjacent to the building will not be a fly in the ointment of any development,” he said.
Higgins says there is also a degree of urgency in all of this.
For one thing, the $25 million set aside for a new train station in Buffalo is due to be released in 2019.
For another, Buffalo's current downtown station on Exchange Street was closed a couple of weeks ago when part of its ceiling collapsed during heavy rain.
"I think it makes a lot of sense to start a discussion today about an alternative location," Higgins said.
After the recent problem at the downtown station, Mayor Byron Brown also went on the record as supporting a new train station-- but his preferred site would be at Canalside, which has become a showcase for Buffalo's so called renaissance, and a synergetic slice of what the new Buffalo has to offer.