Buffalo Central Terminal restoration plans aim to boost regional tourism

Sep 3, 2013

Restoration efforts continue for Buffalo’s historic Central Terminal. The plans focus on bringing life back to the large train station while boosting cultural tourism in the area.

Buffalo's Central Terminal
Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO News

Buffalo’s Central Terminal opened its doors in 1929. During that time, the train station was filled with a variety of businesses where people could drop off their dry cleaning, get their shoes shined, or grab a meal in the restaurant.

Central Terminal Restoration Corporation’s Executive Director Marilyn Rodgers says on June 22, 1929 there were 2,200 people in the concourse at a sit-down luncheon. She says it gives people an idea of how big it is inside.

The terminal has been vacant for years. While it sat empty, all of its stained glass windows were broken. It was vandalized, stripped of copper, and its terrazzo floors damaged. Rodgers says in 1997, the restoration corporation stepped in and is trying to restore the station to its original splendor.

“For the first 15 years all of the work in the terminal, the stabilization, the boarding up, retrieving the clock that you see in the concourse, redoing the clocks on the tower face, these are all very significant items for a group of all volunteers to do, including removing over 400 tons of debris,” said Rodgers.

Buffalo Central Terminal with the train tunnels connecting
Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO News

More recently, the concourse has been used for events and tours. In order to get the building tenant ready though, Rogers estimates it’s going to cost roughly $55 million to repurpose the building inside and out. She says so far, funding has come from grants and individual donations.

“We’re meeting with financial institutions and we’re trying to garner enough interest. We have great community interest. We’ve received about $600,000 of in-kind goods and services, including our 50,000 watt solar PV system that’s going to be installed through Solar Liberty,” said Rodgers.

Rogers says there is a lot of opportunity to rent and lease the space to businesses, but they plan to maintain the historical integrity of the building at the same time. 

The concourse area
Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO News

“Our ticket window section we’re talking about utilizing that as a museum for the terminal and for transportation, as well. The main concourse will always be a public space and it would be able to be rented for events and smaller gallery openings and have gallery openings and have gallery openings and live performances in the concourse,”  said Rodgers.

There is also room for a number of shops and cafés in the building. Rodgers says one of the big ideas is to try and attract a college or university to occupy the space.

“The restaurant area could very easily be turned into another educational opportunity that serves the public, possibly bringing in a culinary school where they can sell their goods. The offices that we have in our mezzanine area have movable walls, so you can actually create lecture halls. You can create classrooms to any size that you want,” said Rodgers.

The restored clock in the concourse
Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO News

Rogers says mixed use is the best option for the large space. She says the plan is to market the facility as a center for arts and sciences.

“We have a tourism and marketing plan that is just going through the final tweaks. As far as education is concerned, we have already reached out to universities and colleges locally, regionally, throughout the state. We have even reached out to a facility in Canada,” said Rodgers.

Buffalo Niagara Visitors Bureau’s Peter Burakowski says he is very excited to hear about plans for the train station and the progress it has made.

“If the plans for the Central Terminal unfold as the team there hopes in the coming years, I think it will be a really neat combination of arts and architecture on that site, and that will be a compelling story for our region,” said Burakowski.

The first phase of the restoration project is expected to be completed by 2016. By then, tenants will be able to move in. Rogers says another goal through the rebuilding process is to revitalize the area which has also fallen on hard times.

The old Union News Company
Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO News

“The Central Terminal Restoration Corporation wishes to take a leadership role with a strong reuse plan that will lift the neighborhood, not just put people in the building,” said Rodgers.

As for the train tunnels that can be seen at the terminal they are not part of the restoration project, as they are owned by the City of Buffalo. The railroad tracks around it will not be included either. They are owned by CSX Corporation.