Author: Lance Sabo | Part 6 of 6
The Central Terminal:
I have made a compelling argument on why the central terminal (“CT”) would be an advantageous place to locate a stadium; an area that is centrally located in the city, accessible by various modes of transportation and an area that is a prime candidate for redevelopment.
Beyond those qualities, I must admit to being a bit biased as I pitch the CT as a possible location for a new stadium/convention center complex. I am fan of the building and of the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation’s efforts to restore the building. It is a grand building that once served as a prominent gateway for travelers to our city. It’s a link to a bygone era when Buffalo ranked among the top cities in the country.
For me, what distinguishes the CT from the many other architectural treasures in our region is that it was always intended for public use (designed to handle 3200 passengers per hour), while buildings such as the Guaranty Building, the Darwin Martin House, Graycliff, the Mansions on Delaware Avenue and Lincoln Parkway were built for private businesses and residences.
My travels to New York City and Philadelphia have taken me through both Grand Central Station and the 30th Street Station. Seeing the bustling activity of people from all walks of life in these stations, I couldn’t help but imagine what the CT was like in its heyday. Those thoughts quickly turned to the CT’s possible potential. Like most, I am hopeful that the CT buildings can someday be repurposed and that the redevelopment would also include a station that provides both light rail and Amtrak passenger service.
Over the years, I have attended several events and taken multiple tours of the CT. I have mixed feelings from these visits; on one hand I’m thankful for the efforts of the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (“CTRC”), but on the other hand, I’m concerned. The volunteers of the CTRC deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve accomplished; likely, without their stewardship, the terminal and any hope for redevelopment would have been lost. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, I can’t help to liken them to the proverbial “Dutch boy with his finger in the dike,” in that funding for the restoration seems to be coming in in bits and pieces, especially when looking at the big picture for the entire complex.
When the initial conversation of a new stadium started and various sites were mentioned, I immediately thought of the many benefits that could result from the pairing of a new stadium/convention center and CT. The most important being, the possibility of additional sources of funding for the restoration and redevelopment efforts that are currently underway.
Over the years there have been a variety of proposals made for the CT by various individuals and groups, some being realistic and others not. I must admit that my understanding of the current plans for the CT got lost in that chatter, which is likely the case for many others in our community. To get clarification on the current status and future plans for the CT, I contacted Marilyn Rodgers, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the CTRC.
My initial attempts to contact her led to a series of phone messages back and forth. When we finally did have a conversation, she was apologetic for the delay, and she informed me that I had contacted her at a very busy time. During that week there had been three interviews for features by the Buffalo News, WBFO and NPR News – Washington D.C. and that there was a video shoot in progress as well. All that added to the normal weekly happenings at the terminal, she explained “it has been an exciting, but hectic week.”
While researching for this series, I stumbled across a very well-produced brochure titled “Buffalo Central Terminal – Master Plan 2011;” which highlights both the history of the terminal and the group’s long term redevelopment plans. The plan includes commercial office and light industrial incubator space; a restaurant; a museum; transportation center and residential apartments to be located in the 15 story tower. I inquired; if that plan was still in the works and if so how is it progressing? She explained: “The Master Plan that you are referring to is more of an executive summary, which allowed us to refine the reuse plan with more definition. It is still our long term goal, but we have modified it somewhat since then and it now includes a Center for Restoration Arts and Sciences; which is being modeled after another successful program of its type. At this time we are primarily focused on the School and Museum aspects of the plan. Funding for both projects is coming together and we are projecting 2017 as a tentative target.”
I explained to her the nature of my series and asked what her thoughts were of my proposal of locating a new stadium and convention center on the CT site. I could immediately sense that she has listened to many grand plans from outsiders that lack the funding to back it up. Her reply was very diplomatic, but short: “It sounds interesting, but we have a plan and until something more creditable/viable comes along that would cause us to alter our plan, we will move forward in our current direction.”
If the CTRC’s redevelopment efforts meet their projections in 2017 and they continue to move forward with other aspects of their plans, the CT would begin to reestablish its vitality at about the same time that the ground breaking for a new stadium/convention center would likely be taking place. Given the various components outlined in the CTRC’s master plan, it becomes quite obvious that having a stadium and convention center co-located on the CT site would result in a very complementary relationship for each of the venues. If done properly with CT as the center piece, our region would truly have something iconic and would be unlike anything else in the country.
The East Side:
In the various articles of this series I focused on stadium financing, possible design features and the possible benefits of having the new stadium and convention center co-located on the Central Terminal site (see latter here). Until now, I haven’t really mentioned the East Side neighborhood that the CT is located in. I did this intentionally because I thought it was important that the community have time to digest and discuss the various other factors of the proposal before a serious discussion could be had on the current status of the East Side.
I find it interesting that most Buffalonians, both residing and former, are very proud of the city and the current progress that is underway. And, that we are increasingly optimistic about our city’s future. Unfortunately, there are still many in our community whose pessimism appears to be based on opinions strongly rooted from our cities past; a time when government officials and union corruption was rampant and one would avoid neighborhoods because of racial and social-economic biases.
Times are changing: our local, state and federal government officials and trade unions have become key contributors to the region’s advancement; and people are choosing to live in various areas of city in order to embrace ethnic diversity instead of avoiding it.
There is a new generation of people, singles/couples/families/empty nesters/retirees that are moving into the city. Some have embraced the urban loft life style, while others view living in tight-knit residential neighborhoods to be more appealing. As prices in well-established, high demand areas continue to increase, many have begun to look for more affordable options on the fringe of desirable neighborhoods. As result the city is being revitalized block by block.
For some it is pretty hard to imagine how a person could possibly see the potential, be willing to reside in and put forth the effort to improve areas of the city that many had deemed undesirable a longtime ago. Truly, it’s all a matter of perspective. Much like the term “affordable” in real estate which has both positive and negative connotations based on the context in which it used, it all depends on whether the subject of the discussion has financial means or not.
I must admit that as a lifelong resident of the City of Buffalo proper, I once held a negative view of the East Side. My opinions were largely based on news reports and the assumption that only bad things happen there. Sure, I have attended events at the CT, gone to the Broadway Market and the main post office, purchased building supplies and tires from businesses in that area at some point, but I hadn’t really spent any time in the actual residential part of the neighborhood. So I must concede that my opinion was largely based on ignorance, an underlining fear of the unknown and what appeared to be a lack of concentrated goods and services.
As I was contemplating writing these articles, I decided to explore the residential area that was adjacent to CT along Memorial Drive to get a better understanding of what was there. My adventure was a self-guided walking tour that lasted about two hours, in which I was armed with only a clipboard and pen. As I walked around I was surprised to see that the housing stock in area had been almost completely decimated. Many blocks only contained only a handful of houses that appeared to have been randomly sprinkled among the vacant lots. Like any other modern urban areas the conditions these houses varied from well maintained, to “needs some love”, to beyond repair. Many were boarded up waiting for someone to decide their fate.
From a rejuvenation stand point, the possibilities are endless in regards to the types of residential buildings that could infill the vacant lots in the area. The East Side is one of the only residential areas in the city that could be almost completely redefined. For example: it could become the greenest neighborhood, or it could feature micro-housing, or maybe it could become Condo-Ville. The area is full of potential and ripe with opportunity.
During my tour, I made an effort to interact with the neighbors that I encountered. With most I merely exchanged simple greetings and smiles. I was fortunate to have conversations others. As I walked around the neighborhood I looked for the city’s crime surveillance cameras; I was unable to locate one. I also noticed there wasn’t much of a police presence, as I didn’t see a single police car the entire time I was there. I asked the people that I had talked to about the reported crime in the area; they said that most of it really didn’t happen in their section of the neighborhood and “it really is pretty quiet.” During my tour I saw nothing that would discredit their claims: I never felt threatened in any way, nor did anyone proposition me with drugs or sex, and I also returned to my vehicle with keys, cell phone and wallet intact. Ironically, I would have my wallet pickpocketed several weeks later, while on Hertel during the Italian festival.
I had three separate in-depth conversations with local residents. When I posed the question: “As residents, what are your main concerns that you feel the city needs to address?” their initial responses pertained to enforcement of housing code violations, poor street maintenance and snow removal. It wasn’t until I specifically asked them about crime in the area that they addressed it.
I find it interesting that the residents cited poor City services as their main concerns that need to be addressed. Since these concerns are echoed by residents of every other neighborhood within the city, maybe the East Side is not as vastly different from other areas of Buffalo as some might think?
Placing a stadium and convention center at the CT site will not cause the East Side to automatically be transformed, but it would bring attention to an area that has long been neglected. In order for changes to take place there would have to be specific plans to guide this transition. It is likely that any initiative to improve this area would have come from local officials and would have to include State or Federal funding, but a stadium/convention center might be exactly what is needed to get the ball rolling.
Also see Chris Jacobs’ proposal to relocate government and non-profits to the East Side – an idea that would add to the momentum.
To learn more about this series, see New Stadium Prospectus – Accessibility is the Key | Part 5 of 6
Lance Sabo is currently a master’s student at Buffalo State College and will complete his master’s degree in economics and finance in the fall of 2014. Serves in the Air Force Reserves at the Niagara Falls Airbase and has been a Federal Civil Servant for 20 years. Contact Lance Sabo | twitter Lance_Sabo