Campaign For Greater Buffalo Architecture History & Culture

Downtown Train Station Site Recommended

Central Terminal Redevelopment Rejected

April 20, 2017 - 11:50 am
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BUFFALO, N.Y.  (WBEN) - A site selection committee created by Governor Andrew Cuomo voted to recommend that Buffalo's next Amtrak Station be built downtown,  rejecting the groundswell of support for resurrecting the massive and mostly-vacant NY Central Terminal on Buffalo's East Side. 

At the request of Governor Cuomo, the city has convened a site selection committee (pictured below at Thursday's meeting)  to find a replacement for Buffalo's aging and damaged Amtrak Station on Exchange Street. The committee by a 11-4 vote Thursday  endorsed the downtown proposal and will submit their choice to Cuomo for ultimate approval.

The state agreed to fund $25 million in design and study costs, if the group can make their selection before the end of May.  

" In many ways this is a customer issue, a transportation issue. Whether  you are talking about business customers of CSX who use rail, or you are talking to people who live here who use Adirondack or Trailways or Greyhound, or  people who use MetroRail and Metro Bus. The downtown station makes the most sense, in every way for all of  those customers. And it's important not to lose sight that this is, in large part, a customer-oriented decision,'

  - Howard Zemsky,  NYS  Economic Development Commissioner  

NYS Economic Development Corp.

The  selection process  created a series of dueling arguments over whether putting the station on Buffalo's East side would be better than downtown. Early in the discussion, a station location in Canalside was eliminated by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., leaving two nearby sites in downtown to compete with plans put forth for the Central Terminal. 

" I think what was lacking in this process was imagination.. and boldness., said Higgins, a long-time advocate of the Central Terminal re-development.  In weeks leading up to the decision Higgins pitched for using available funds to help advance the Terminal project as a way to revitilize the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood.  Several other lawmakers and a coalition of architects joined the cause, but were stymied by those who felt that cost and population density made downtown a preferred choice. 

Campaign For Greater Buffalo Architecture History & Culture
"There was a tremendous amount of sentiment for the Central Terminal," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who suggested that the committee's hurry-up time frame resulted in a decision that the city could eventually regret. 

" All along I had questions about whether we were answering all the questions we needed to" Poloncarz said . "We don't want to be paralyzed by indecision, I agree with that. But we want to make a decision that is based on all the facts that are available and at this point I don't think all the facts are on the table,

 The site selection committee's consultant said that new terminal downtown  would cost almost 27 million more than partial re-use of the 1920's era Art-Deco landmark near Broadway and Paderewki Drive.   The same report said that the Central Terminal’s cost would range anywhere from $68.6 to $149.4 million, however  Brian Higgins argued that the costs were inflated and did not take historic preservation tax credits, that would be available only at the Central Terminal site.

Downtown’s price ranges anywhere from $34.2 to $86.2 million, in the earlier site selection report prepared by engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, 

Campaign For Greater Buffalo Architecture History & Culture

The state will now work with local officials, Amtrak, and freight-train operator to design a station and refine the specific site selection.   The downtown option rose to prominence after preservationist Tim Tielman advanced a re-working of existing train platforms at the Exchange Street site, supplemented with a canopy and re-configured public access. His specific concept - pictured above and below-- was not selected but has served as a starting point for the discussion

 The current station can be entered via Exchange Street. Under Tielman's plan the new building would use the same tracks but be entered at Washington Street. 

COMMITTEE MEMBERS & VOTE ON EXCHANGE STREET LOCATION

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo - No Vote
  • Mayor Byron Brown - Yes
  • Robert Shibley (lead facilitator) - No Vote
  • Congressman Brian Higgins - No
  • Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz - No
  • NYS Senator Tim Kennedy - No
  • Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes - Yes
  • Matt Driscoll (Commissioner, NYS Department of Transportation) - Yes
  • Howard Zemsky (President & CEO of Empire State Development) - Yes
  • Tom George (Transit Director, NFTA) - Yes
  • Steve Stepniak (Commissioner, City of Buffalo Department of Public Works) - Yes
  • Brendan Mehaffy (Executive Director, City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning) - Yes
  • Caroline E. Mael (Senior Regional Director State Corridors East, Amtrak) - Yes
  • Maurice O'Connell (VP of State Government and Community Affairs, CSX) - Yes
  • Eugene Berardi, Jr. (President & CEO, Trailways) - Yes
  • Douglas Funke (President of Citizens for Regional Transit) - Abstained
  • Luis Rodriguez (Rodriguez Construction Group) - Yes
  • Dr. Constance Moss (Retired Associate Superintendent Buffalo Public Schools) - No

STATEMENT FROM GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO REGARDING BUFFALO TRAIN STATION DECISION

"There is no doubt that Buffalo needs a new train station to replace the aging structure on Exchange Street. Last fall, I issued a $1 million, six-month challenge to Mayor Byron Brown to convene a group of stakeholders, hire a consultant to provide technical information and expertise to guide the discussion, and to ultimately recommend the ideal location for a new, modern train station. This group, and residents from across Western New York, have been engaged in a fruitful, robust discussion on the scope of this important decision about where to locate the new train station.

"I am pleased that the committee has returned a decision prior to the deadline. Today, this committee, with substantial input from the community, made a determination to build a train station at the location that will best continue to help Buffalo move forward. As promised, the state will pay $1 million for the consulting fees, as part of our $25 million commitment for this transformative project. Together, we will build a modern, safe and efficient train station – worthy of a world-class city – in downtown Buffalo.

"This was a real challenge, but it represented an opportunity to showcase how the leaders of the 'New Buffalo' have the ability to quickly reach a decision when the resources have been allocated to move forward on significant initiatives. We see in this process the difference between the 'Old Buffalo Way' and the 'New Buffalo Way.' The old Buffalo was slow to make decisions and lack of unanimity often stopped progress. Unfortunately, organizations that wait for unanimity often wait forever because difference of opinion on major projects is the norm. Successful organizations realize that indecision is actually a decision. Indecision is a de facto decision to do nothing.

"The 'new' Peace Bridge debate that lasted for many years is an example. No bridge was ever built. The decision on the train station is a big step towards the future. I hope those who disagreed with the final decision will put their personal disappointment aside and join the effort, because more important than the specific location is the fact that Buffalo is building a new train station. Now it's time to take the next step and get it done – fast and right. The state will be a full partner.

"I thank Mayor Brown, Dean Shibley and the stakeholders for all of their efforts, as well as WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, the engineering consultant that has assisted the committee with answering the questions, presenting the facts, and providing the data to support a thoughtful decision."

 

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