August 28, 2019

The Future of the Central Terminal – You Can Almost Taste It

It was only a couple of years back when residents of Buffalo were eagerly awaiting news about the future of the Central Terminal. Developers Harry Stinson and Doug Swift were taking a serious whack at plans to restore the complex. On one hand, it sounded like the site might be a good fit for the film industry. At around the same time, there were hopes that The City would choose the Central Terminal as the preferred Amtrak site. Fans and supporters of The Central Terminal were enthused that there was so much positivity surrounding the historic art deco station – it seemed as if any day an announcement would be made, claiming victory for the rail monument.

Incredibly, it was not long after that that Detroit’s Michigan Central Station was making headlines, similar to what we saw in Cincinnati years earlier with its Union Terminal. Alas, Buffalo was so close, but just couldn’t manage to seal the deal. At the same time, these false alarms allowed us to collectively rally around an iconic architectural gem, and the East Side, in ways that we had never done so before. For the first time, we could see that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, whether that light emanated from a train or a motion picture camera. We now know that it’s not a question of if, but when.

Just this morning, I received an email from a C. Hansen, who shared his fond memories of the Central Terminal, which prompted me to pass along his sentiments:

I have admired this building for many years.

I the mid-80’s I took my first solo bicycle tour, essentially Buffalo to Philly, but decided to take a side trip to Niagara Falls first.  I found myself on the Depew platform with my bicycle and kit at 4 AM.  Having no other possibilities, I put the bike box down on the concrete, lay out my sleeping bag, and tried to grab a few hours more of sleep. When daylight came I packed up all my gear and started riding toward the city.  Not far away I saw an Art Deco looking building towering over the landscape.  I rode toward this beacon and soon realized what it had been, but wondered why it was built out in the middle of nowhere.  I took some photos and have seen others online – I haven’t looked, but there may well be a book on it – hopefully a handsome coffee table sort of thing with high quality photo reproduction and printing.  Later that morning I visited the Albright-Knox and saw many sculptures that I had previously only seen photographs of in books.

I’ve seen it at least a half-dozen times since, most recently 2-3 weeks ago returning to Boston from Toronto.  Writing a trip report for an Amtrak forum, I included this “Passing through Buffalo, I again admired the imposing former NYC office tower, station and facilities. I realize it’s far-fetched, but have this persistent vision that at some future point – before it falls apart, it will be restored for some other use – I find it quite handsome.”

I gather it has been saved pending restoration, but no developer feels it’s worth the risk.  I had a thought on an ideal use – a hotel and conference center.  I realize some of the issues, being isolated and no connection to anything.  Hopefully it could replace Depew, and at a minimum bus service to the airport and downtown be established. Since it likely wouldn’t have space for sufficient hotel rooms, another lower structure would need to be added – designed in a harmonious style.

Hopefully the LSL could eventually stop there again, although not requiring all of the grand halls for Amtrak needs.

It was in 2018 that Governor Cuomo announced that the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation would invest $5 million using the Urban Land Institute Advisory Panel’s findings to guide further restoration work. CTRC’s goal is to reuse the entire complex with a focus on restoring the iconic art deco tower. Initially, this work will include:

The creation of a year-round event space in the concourse;
Waiting room areas and parking accessibility; and
Full capacity for catering and entertainment.
From a previous Buffalo Rising article:

The Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CTRC) has been awarded $5 million in April from the Buffalo Billion Initiative to support the implementation of the Urban Land Institute’s recommendations for the historic East Side landmark.  CTRC has taken a critical step towards putting that money to work by soliciting proposals from architecture, engineering, landscape architecture and land surveying consultant firms and/or teams to provide programming, design, bid and construction administration and inspection services related to the capital improvement of the terminal concourse, as well as the former waiting room and restaurant and other ancillary spaces

The project will consist of various capital improvements to the building and surrounding site so it can be used as year‐round “flexible space” for events.  To enhance Buffalo Central Terminal’s capacity for generating revenue from rental fees, multiple capital improvements need to be made inside the main terminal building. These improvements are both aesthetic and functional, as the Concourse, and its adjoining spaces need to allow for the attainment of a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy upon completion of the project.

Renovations to lobby will require the fabrication of exterior doors to match the existing interior doors. One existing elevator will be refurbished to full functionality. Ceiling and wall finishes in the historic ticket agent and rental spaces will create opportunities for a gift shop, exhibit space and commercial tenants.

Main Concourse
Most of the work on the concourse will be in‐kind restoration and repair to the Secretary of Interior’s Standards. This includes repair of the information kiosk, existing windows, Gustavino tile, terrazzo floor, marble finishes on columns and walls. Some historic features will have to be replicated, including railings and light fixtures. Due to most of the original suspended plaster ceiling collapsing, a new one will have to be constructed. The temporary restrooms will be removed and the historic restrooms will be renovated and reconfigured to accommodate concourse use. The ticket office on the western side of the concourse is to be abated and restored as well.

Waiting Room
The waiting room, adjoined to the south side of the concourse, measures roughly 6,640 square feet. The waiting room will be restored as a secondary rental and events hall. Restoration is intended to allow for exhibitions and gallery use. Extant historic details of the building will be restored or replicated in kind where feasible.

The restaurant, along the north side of the concourse, was originally divided into three sections: a coffee shop, lunchroom and dining room. The restored restaurant area will also feature a commercial kitchen to facilitate catering.

In addition to the programmatic features and services listed above, the property condition assessment reports by HHL Architects identified specific items that need to be addressed on the exterior of the building. This survey should be updated so that these items may be addressed as funding permits.

What I find incredible is that with all of this newfound infusion of time, money, and energy, to create a spectacular East Side destination, The City chose Exchange Street for the new Amtrak Station. With so much momentum now building, this terminal was prime for such a large scale investment, especially because it looks like there is finally a rallying cry to create a regional destination at the site. The Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CTRC) has been making requests from the community to send in historic photos of the iconic restaurant (see below) and waiting room, so that CJS Architects can successfully and accurately “reactivate” these monumental features. Anyone in possession of historic photos can submit via 

Once these historic assets are restored and brought back to life, The Central Terminal will be another Buffalo Destination, similar to what is happening at Larkinville (another rail connector).

It just seems shortsighted that as the momentum grows to create a thriving scene at The Central Terminal, it will be accomplished without the help of Amtrak passengers.

Originally published by queenseyes on Buffalo Rising

The Future of the Central Terminal – You Can Almost Taste It