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A Spotlight Shines on Buffalo’s Central Terminal

There is an old theater adage that states, “conflict creates action.” Buffalo’s Central Terminal has certainly had its share of conflicts and problems, but it wasn’t until Harry Stinson and his team stepped up that there was a clear actionable solution.

In a press conference earlier today, Mr. Stinson, half-jokingly, pleaded with the residents of Buffalo and the CTRC to “give him the keys.”  Over the last 25 years, Harry Stinson has made it his specialty to renovate and revitalize historic structures. In the last five years alone, Stinson Developments has completed more than $100 million in projects in Hamilton, Ontario. He sees the development of the Central Terminal as a passion project, as well as a phenomenal opportunity for the East Side. “I’ve met a lot of people in this process and come to love Buffalo over the last 14 months,” he said today.

Much has been written about Stinson and his development company over the last year, from the RFP process to being awarded the Designated Developer, and the recent joint letter to train station committee (see below). The CTRC wrote that the parties were concluding the DD process, terms for a purchase and sale agreement were being finalized in order to transition ownership. Recently, local developer Doug Swift,  known for his development of Riverworks and partnership with Howard Zemsky on Larkinville, also joined the Stinson team. “I joined the team because I have confidence in their abilities and felt it was the right time to restore the Central Terminal.”

Everything seemed to be on track (pun intended) until last week when Stinson received a text message, then a call from media, and subsequently, the CTRC’s press release where they indicated that they want to bring in the Urban Land Institute to study the terminal. In a statement released by Stinson Developments, “Years ago, with the help of competent architects, CTRC published their own master plan for the redevelopment of the terminal. Stinson Developments started with that plan. We spent 4,000 man-hours and over $600,000 refining that plan and engaging the community to form our vision for the terminal. We worked closely with CTRC and presented numerous iterations of the plans as they developed. We believe our plan is very strong and very viable.  We disagree that another study is needed at this time and it will needlessly delay the restoration of the Central Terminal possibly as much as two years. However, we greatly respect the Urban Land Institute. Surely our efforts will be of great value to this process and improve the end result. We plan on responding to the RFP that should follow the study.”

After a whirlwind week of speculation, it seems the board has invited Stinson’s team to participate in the ULI study. It’s worth noting that to date, no one on the CTRC’s board has publicly taken responsibility for releasing the memo. Ironically, at the same time last week, unbeknownst to CTRC, Doug Swift and members of the Stinson Developments team were in a meeting with a company interested in bringing the film industry to Buffalo.

Gail Leibowitz, Brickz City Ventures, released the following statement, “We are excited at the prospect of bringing the film and creative arts industry to the Eastside of Buffalo and, in particular, to the Central Terminal. We began our property search a year ago and immediately knew the terminal was the perfect location for our project, given the grandeur, space and location. It was just as apparent that Harry Stinson, Doug Swift and Steve Fitzmaurice were the ideal partners for us. They complement our collective backgrounds of Operations, media, sales and marketing. In addition to being seasoned and successful developers, they embraced the concept of adding a project not only of commercial enrichment but of significant social impact and inclusion as well. We will be training and hiring the people from the community so people will be able to afford to stay in their neighborhoods as new investment comes.” Dorian Forbes, also with Brickz City Ventures, grew up on the East Side of Buffalo, until College when he moved to Atlanta, GA. Mr. Forbes says, “I would like nothing more than to return to my roots and bring to Buffalo an industry that I watched grow in Atlanta in under 10 years, to a 7 billion dollar industry. I want people to remain in the city after college and pursue a career here because we will have an industry to do so. The potential for jobs and careers is tremendous and The Central Terminal is the perfect location, both in its scale and layout, to begin this process along with our partners. I truly believe it will reinvigorate the city and do for Buffalo what it has done for Atlanta.”

Stinson’s group stands by their plans and are confident in the concept they presented to CTRC. But are careful to note, that like any large complicated process, their concept continues to evolve. The group said that several large office tenants have approached them over the last six months,  they want to have their headquarters at the terminal. “Everyone who contacts us – they don’t start out with what’s the rent for your space -it’s ‘wow, this building is so cool. Can we walk through it to decide what space we want to be in?”

The group said their press conference today was a promise to the residents of Buffalo that they don’t plan on going away, “We plan to participate in this process and at the same time, we’ll continue to work on our proposal, making it stronger and continue to engage the surrounding community.”

Below are copies of the plans:

Buffalo Rising will follow this planning process, and we would also like to hear your thoughts on the development of the Central Terminal. Please leave a comment below and share this story with your friends and neighbors to encourage a community conversation.

Lead photo credit Wikimedia Commons

Written by Jessica Marinelli

Jessica Marinelli is a WNY native, born and raised in the Lincoln Park area of Tonawanda. She has been involved in local politics from an early age and is currently a Tonawanda Democratic Committee Member. As an avid equestrian and animal-lover, she trained and re-homed over 40 horses. For over a decade, she was an event planner with the law firm, Hodgson Russ LLP, and now owns her own marketing and event management company. She has worked with international and national organizations on large and small scale events. Jessica writes on politics and local events, as well as working with Buffalo Rising as a social reporter.

View All Articles by Jessica Marinelli
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  • Peter Wolszczak

    This is a fantastic project. I would love to learn more on how to be involved!

  • No_Illusions

    While the urban land institute did a great job with the Richardson Olmsted Complex, Stinson’s plans seem completely solid.

  • OldFirstWard

    All these unnamed businesses have expressed interest to locate offices and business locations in the CT in the middle of nowhere, yet not one tenant will sign on for the DL&W terminal sheds in a downtown location with Metro Rail service and on the waterfront.

    There seems to be a lot of political power brokering behind the scenes that the public is not privy to. Once again, Howard Zemsky is at the vanguard of all the commotion with Tim Tielman in strong support in the wings.

    I realize Carmina Wood Morris was working with Stinson, but I would like to hear from Steve Carmina to hear his point of view on the matter beyond the business relationship if that is possible.

    • 300miles

      From what I understand, there has been no RFP for the DL&W yet, and there has been no developer chosen for it. By contrast, the CT has an organization maintaining the building and promoting it, and had selected a private developer to work with (at the time) … so I don’t think it should be a mystery why nobody has expressed interest in DL&W yet when nobody is actively promoting it.

      • Chris Ostrander

        Plus the DLW target has moved a bit from previously being pushed for private development to now being a mix between the NFTA extension and additional development opportunities on the second floor

      • OldFirstWard

        The DL&W has never stopped being promoted. Brian Higgins publicly and quite actively pursued Rocco Termini to take on the project. The development is talked about publicly and promoted privately.

        • Johnny Pizza

          What authority or ownership does Brian Higgins have to sign a lease with a potential tenant for DLW? Same question for Rocco given that he doesn’t own the site?
          Moral of the story – tenants want to talk to a landlord who actually has the legal authority to sign a lease. Higgins is a talking head and Rocco, unless he was awarded the building or bought it, isn’t in a position to promote the building to a tenant.

  • LongGoneeee

    These plans are nice but it’s not like you think ‘hey why didn’t I think of doing that’ when looking at them. It’s about as rudimentary a plan that one can be.

    What needs to happen here is for something to actually bring people to the CT. The Amtrak station didn’t make sense because that was a ‘how’ and not a ‘why’… There still was no reason to go or more importantly stay there.

    Why not see if Andy will open his checkbook and have NYS pay to move the convention center out there? You could build it above the rail tracks, while at the same time building a light rail station below. Not saying extend light rail here but just future proof it by building the station.

    You might need to eminent domain some stuff to make a connection to the Broadway Market but would that really be so bad?

    • greenca

      The Central Terminal would be a horrible site for a convention center. True, there is plenty of space. That doesn’t overcome how isolated the CT is from everywhere else. Convention centers are usually located in or immediately adjacent to the central business district, allowing attendees to walk around and hopefully patronize surrounding businesses. If you were at a convention at the CT, it would feel like you’re in a bunker with no place to walk to.

      • LongGoneeee

        These concerns didn’t seem to exist when they wanted to put a train station there…..

        If not a convention center there has to be some sort of anchor that can be leveraged. What about moving all of the Marine Drive Apartments over here? Throw in any of the open units in the Perry Projects as well. Would instantly move 1,000s into the area and unlock hundreds of millions in public funds.

        Why not leverage public housing to the advantage of the city providing it?

        • Matthew Moje

          Funny I remember that being a major concern….

          • LongGoneeee

            Forgot to type /s

      • Johnny Pizza

        On top of that a convention center in any city is going to be in walking distance to the most hotel rooms it can be. Central Terminal from that perspective would be a horrible location.

  • eagercolin

    If he wants the keys, it’s a matter of writing a check big enough to get them.

  • Brad Pitts

    The building is spectacular. So what. The location is abysmal. It always has been. When NYCR needed to improve on it’s pre Civil War train station in 1925, it moved far enough from downtown’s density to where it could expand it’s acreage – to the middle of nowhere. The neighborhood came and went, and now it’s in the middle of a blighted nowhere. Not even having access to the 190 – and yes, you’re going to need cars and trucks to make it a relevant for anything. The CT’s best chance for renewal would have been putting the casino there where it could have been a legitimate magnet.

  • RiverdaleAndrew

    “Harry Stinson” Lol don’t get too excited Buffalo. He has left a trail of mismanaged projects in his wake. Also if you look at the projects he has completed none of them end up anywhere near as good as he proclaims they will be. On top of that what most developers can accomplish in a few short years in the GTA it seems to take Harry 3-4 times longer to get stuff done. Jessica Marinelli I get it you’re excited to see somebody take interest in the redevelopment of your grand old station but I fear Harry Stinson is not the man who can or will pull it off.

    Harry Stinson was sued by his his Business Partner David Mirvish in 2007 for his handling of 1 King West. In 2009 he filed for bankruptcy before fleeing the hot Toronto condo market for Hamilton. His largest project in Hamilton failed resurrecting a large century old hotel so he’s been stuck doing much much smaller jobs.

    All I have to say is good luck if you think Harry is going to pull this off and if he does expect corners to be cut. I would suggest as proof to take a look at his website. Professional it is not.