The Editorial Board: New funding for Central Terminal can spur investment on the East Side

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This is the best news a beloved landmark and those who would bring it back to life have had since restoration efforts began.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s announcement Tuesday that $61 million has been allocated for repairs to the Central Terminal’s grand concourse, exterior and landscape is a huge step forward toward reuse of the gigantic complex, a reuse that many have doubted would ever happen. Funding like this has not been seen since the trains were running, which last occurred in 1979.

This is the Josh Allen of preservations – the one that advocates have been waiting for – and we know that preservationists can be just as long-suffering as Bills fans.

The money, which comes mainly from New York state, with contributions from Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, other corporate foundations, and the City of Buffalo, is not nearly enough to fully restore the half-a-million-square-foot property – that would take north of $275 million – but it’s sufficiently serious to attract developers who will carry the ball further.

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Until that happens, the new funding will help the Central Terminal Restoration Corp. continue the work laid out in its extensive, detailed master plan, which was published in 2021 with the participation of a community advisory committee, among other entities. This work would focus on the basic repairs and enhancements that will allow the main terminal to function as a building, including new HVAC systems, bathrooms, window replacements and other essential rehab.

While every building that forms the Central Terminal complex is available for reuse, the iconic main terminal is where public attention is focused. There have been intermittent public events held there in recent years, within the limitations of a zero-amenity situation – no restrooms, electricity or heating, among other detriments.

What’s consistent is that even given these austere conditions, when the public is invited, it flocks there. The majesty and possibilities of this grand structure are clearly apparent, even after decades of neglect. It holds a fascination for Western New Yorkers that few other landmarks have. Executive Director Monica Pellegrino Faix calls it “the most beloved building in Buffalo.” We’d say it definitely has a romantic allure that few, if any, local landmarks can claim.

It’s important that the open areas around the main structures be addressed in the early phases of redevelopment, as they will be, according to Pellegrino Faix. This is about more than just landscaping.

The terminal complex is almost an island unto itself, with its connections to the surrounding Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood underutilized. This isolation is mainly a matter of perception and can be fixed. The new master plan baked such connections into every phase of restoration by engaging community members during each step of its preparation.

Given this priority, early plans for the landscape surrounding the campus include park and recreational space for residents, but the master plan goes well beyond that with ideas for integrating the surrounding streetscape, supporting infill housing and combining the terminal’s open space with existing open space nearby. If the master plan is fully realized, the Central Terminal campus becomes a vital component of the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood in a way few could have imagined.

Much of the terminal’s future does depend on the developer or combination of developers who take it on and what decisions are made about reuse: a combination of event, office, residential and/or light industry is roughly what’s been imagined for the interior spaces.

And what happens in the meantime?

These funds will help make the central structure viable for events, enabling it to once again welcome the public. As the plan describes it, “early activation of the Terminal will bring people back to the Terminal to remember the past and imagine its many futures.”

Before this funding announcement, many would have settled for a cafe, some bathrooms and a ceiling that doesn’t leak. It looks like we’ll be getting that and more – much more.

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