BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Exactly 37 years have passed since Oct. 28, 1979, the day the final Amtrak train departed from the Central Terminal. Amtrak's decision to leave the site ended a 50-year run for the Broadway-Fillmore District, which had served as the center of train travel in Western New York ever since the terminal's grand opening in 1929.
But now, after years of sitting idle, there's a chance to restore not only the Central Terminal, but also the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood that was once so integral to the the city's transportation system.
If members of Congress, the state legislature and the Buffalo Common Council get their way, the Central Terminal could be in position to restore service to Amtrak passenger trains. The state of New York has allocated $25 million for Buffalo rebuild its train station, and Gov. Cuomo has now pledged $1 million to specifically fund a study to determine the best site for a new station.
Larkinville and Canalside are also possibilities. But Congressman Brian Higgins, three state legislators representing Buffalo, and Buffalo Common Councilman David Franczyk indicated during a tour last week that the Central Terminal must be the choice.
After all, it's currently the only location in Buffalo with the infrastructure to connect to New York City, Toronto and Chicago, Congressman Higgins said.
And, if coupled with development, it could provide a major boost to Broadway-Fillmore, allowing the East Side to benefit from the same development Canalside and other areas of the city have enjoyed for several years.
"It means nothing -- nothing -- unless it can find its way into the forgotten neighborhoods," Higgins said. "This is a forgotten neighborhood with a great history and great potential."
The city now has six months to study locations for a train station. If it ultimately chooses to restore the Central Terminal, the project could compliment a proposal already in the works by Canadian developer Harry Stinson, the preferred developer for Central Terminal Restoration Corp.
Stinson wants to add townhouses around the site, along with mixed-use office and retail spaces in the terminal itself. He has indicated that a new Amtrak station would help his project immensely.
Marlies Wesolowski, who helps serve the East Side as the executive director of the Matt Urban Center, said she'll be meeting with the developer this week to discuss the future of the Central Terminal.
She welcomes the large-scale development, particularly if it includes stores that could serve the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood.
"Stores would be wonderful of any kind, whether it be grocery stores, clothing stores, or any kind of amenities," Wesolowski said. "It's kind of sad that you have to drive miles before you get to a clothing store, or drive miles before you get a decent pair of shoes other than the ones you can buy from vendors."
Wesolowski said that while she is encouraged by the proposals, any development must be mindful of the people who already live in the neighborhood, in order to not price anyone out.
"I'd love to see a plan that would not only revitalize the Central Terminal, but also revitalize the community around the Central Terminal," Wesolowski said. "It's a community that's struggled, for many, many years. Housing is subpar in that neighborhood, but to really infuse some capital within the neighborhood, that would be great."
Mary Woods, who lives two blocks from the Central Terminal, said she'd like to see hotels, restaurants and retail inside the terminal itself, almost like a throwback to the days when train stations looked more like airports.
"When I was small, I used to ride the train," Woods said. "So I'd love it if they put it back."
The development is not contingent on a new Amtrak station, but Congressman Higgins said last week that a combination of the two could also help spur further private investment in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. Beyond the $25 million from the state, federal funding is also possible, Higgins said.
"If we can follow through on this commitment of confidence, to restore this great historic structure, and give it back to the people of Buffalo for future generations," Higgins said, "we will have done a great public service."