In order to get a clearer understanding of the broad ranging implications of the future of the Central Terminal, I sat down with some of the key players to discuss the building’s possible future. I was excited at the prospect of meeting developer Harry Stinson (photo – right), who had traveled to Buffalo for the day from Canada. Harry is the guy who, I believe, is going to take the terminal and the 30 acres of land surrounding it, in a direction that we can only imagine at this point. Along with Harry, I sat down with Paul Lang, Vice Chair of the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CTRC), and Steve Fitzmaurice (Harry’s right hand man in Buffalo – photo on left).
The whole meeting came about after I posted on the Terminal City vision a couple of weeks ago. Harry wanted to meet up to discuss his sincere interest in the project, and his unwavering desire to hit a home run. He had just come off of an attempt to develop the historic Hotel Niagara in Niagara Falls (see here). The project fell apart for reasons that Harry didn’t want to discuss, but he did tell me that he had tackled a lot of other projects of similar or greater magnitude, and the hotel could have been a game changer for Niagara Falls. Instead, he pulled up stakes and set his sights on Buffalo. Four years earlier, a young architect had told him about the Central Terminal, and he decided to pay a visit. He had been hearing great things about the city, and knew that it had great bones, a solid economy, and plenty of opportunities. After giving up on the Niagara Hotel, he decided that the time was right revisit the Central Terminal.
Paul Lang told me that Harry Stinson was the first developer that the CTRC ever took seriously. “His was the first real developer with genuine interest, who began to invest time and money in the project,” said Paul. “All of the rest of the interested developers said, ‘Here’s a dollar, now get out of my way.’ But none of them appeared to have a plan, a team, or anything to back them up. We weren’t just going to hand it over to someone without knowing that they were serious and could pull it off.”
“The first time that I ever saw the Central Terminal, it was a ‘wow’ moment,” said Harry. “The building embeds itself into the psyche. When I saw the RFP from the CTRC, I knew that the project would only work if the rest of the complex was part of the terminal plan. It would be like having the Disney castle without the park – one wouldn’t work without the other. In order to make it work, we would need to create a destination, with people living, and working, with office space, hotel rooms and residential. Only then would people want to live here – it would become a destination. Terminal City will need a full time staff – it has to stand on its own feet. There’s going to be offices in the tower, and hotel rooms, and residential – we’re looking at the big picture here. The tower is an international building. We are going to turn this 30 acre site into a something that is geographically central again – a self contained environment with things to do, so that if someone is living here, their friends will want to visit. This will be a place like no other in Buffalo.”
I asked Harry if he had explored Larkinville and Canalside. He told me that he had, and that he was inspired by their successes. He also told me that he felt that one of the missing pieces of the puzzle was residential. There are all of these places to work and play, but there needs to be centralized living opportunities around them. That’s why he is so set on the hotel and the residential components.
The people living and staying at Terminal City will feed the other amenities on a regular basis. If Terminal City becomes a destination, then visitors will also add to the success. There’s plenty of parking (including 450 covered spaces), a giant historic event center, places to explore, areas to ride bikes, walk… and there will be places to eat, shop, and hang out with friends. Like Larkinville and Canalside, Terminal City will be on the tip of the tongue of all Buffalonians.
Terminal City is not far from Downtown Buffalo – it’s a straight shot down Broadway. If the city was to take this into consideration, and put together a Master Plan for the street, there would be critical connectivity that would open many development doors along the way. Even without that expanded vision, the Broadway Market is right around the corner, there are some wonderful old neighborhood bars still operating, and vacant parcels of land where people can build housing. “We’ve talked to the neighbors,” said Steve. “And they love the idea of the project. They’re excited to see something happening here after all of these years. We have been told by people who don’t live in this neighborhood that the project will be disrupting the neighborhood and that the neighbors won’t want it. Then we talk to the neighbors and that’s not true at all. They want their property values to go up. They want to see the investment. They want to see hundreds of job opportunities in the neighborhood. They want to see the land go back on the tax rolls.”
Harry mentioned that in order for Terminal City to work, it has to be an outrageous development. It won’t be long before the full vision is posted online. At that time, he’s going to be looking at the community for input. “We will be driven by the response,” he stated. “Do you want to be part of it? Until this point we’ve heard some healthy skepticism. Now people are rooting for us. This is not my first development – this is a project that I am excited about and I believe in. I have amassed an incredible team that I believe can fulfill the vision. The City has been great to work with so far. We are halfway through the formulation process right now. The more we work on it, the more excited we get. We are here to carry on the work and the dream of the volunteers that have gotten the building to the point where it is currently. When we’re done, people will be living and working in historically significant buildings, in a walkable community. The winds of change are quickly shifting in Buffalo. This city has scale. It is a genuine city. There is a migration back into the city, of people who want to live in real places, with real history. I am very excited about Terminal City because I’m excited about Buffalo. For me, this is an opportunity that I can not pass up. I’ve tackled bigger projects and redeveloped neighborhoods that needed a lot more help.”