It was a gloomy Friday morning outside the Buffalo Museum of Science, but there was more than a little sunshine inside as the community gathered to hear about a new day dawning for the Central Terminal and surrounding neighborhood.
But it wasn’t the new day everyone was anticipating. From the beginning of their presentation the Urban Land Institute (ULI) study team made it clear they were not recommending either a developer-driven approach nor embarking on a full-scale, phased restoration, estimated to cost $100 Million – at least, not yet. Instead, for both the Terminal and its neighborhood – which the team’s lead, Michael Stern described as the Terminal’s “front door” – the team recommended a value-building approach of neighborhood revitalization, breaking down barriers, inviting the community to experience the Terminal complex through events and creative placemaking, and growing the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CRTC) into an organization that can manage years of heavy lifts ahead.
Stern stated, at the outset, “there currently is little-to-no market value in the Terminal – we need to create value in order to establish a market.”
Just as significantly, the team firmly recommended that the keys to the Central Terminal complex remain in the hands of the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CTRC), rather than being turned over to a developer. But along with keeping the keys, the ULI also recommended that CTRC become the CTC – the Central Terminal Corporation – a “professionalized” organization with an executive director, staff, and broader mission including more partnerships and engagement in the neighborhood. The name and branding change was recommended to align with the recommended mission broadening.
This wider mission will include developing better ties with the neighborhood by developing strong partnerships with neighborhood institutions such as churches and mosques, and especially the Broadway Market. Also, by opening up the property physically by creating new ways to access the platform area (currently surrounded by sheer walls and approachable only from Paderewski Drive) to reduce the sense of a frontier fettered by a frowning fortress.
The team recommended other ways to invite the neighborhood in, such as creative placemaking and pop-up parks. One member of the team, Malaika Abernathy Scrivens, is a deputy mayor in DC and a project manager for the Walter Reed Medical Center, which has engaged the community through similar outreach efforts.
It’s worth viewing ULI team member Betsy del Monte’s remarks on the basis for their approach (starting 8 minutes in on the video), which included the following:
When the Central Terminal was first established here, it cut a swath through the fabric of the grid of the neighborhood to establish itself. So some of what we’re responding to here is the interruption of that neighborhood fabric from the start, and figuring out how to put energy into renovating and energizing the complex so that some of that will also go into renovating and energizing the neighborhood.
One of the things we know we must do is the edge of the complex becomes a wall. It turns its back on the neighborhood. By breaking down the exterior spaces, and actually offering a connection to the neighbors into the complex, we can achieve some of the opportunities we are talking about.
This grew out of some of the earliest conversations with neighbors about the Central Terminal complex, del Monte said. Some had pleasant childhood memories of the Terminal, but many said they had never been inside, and considered the vacant complex an imposing symbol of blight. A member of the study team told me that in one interview, two neighbors argued over whether they wanted the complex demolished or revitalized.
The ULI panel also recommended the Terminal help “green” the neighborhood in a way not unlike that suggested in Buffalo Rising Thursday, including applying Olmstedian principles, not just on the Terminal grounds, but also on Memorial Drive, Paderewski, and Fillmore Avenue, which, at one time, was part of the Olmsted park and parkway system. The recommendations included a network of parks, green spaces, paths, and even rail-trails. This would build on the advantage of everything in the neighborhood being within a ten-minute walk.
Is This Big?
Perhaps the biggest question left unanswered is whether the ULI’s recommendations meet the Mayor’s challenge of “coming up with something big”? In a city where large preservation and development projects have become a spectator sport, someone might look at their presentation and wonder where are the phased redevelopment plans, with dollars, square footages, and renderings? Or where is the big heritage play, like the rail museum complex that we posted about on Wednesday and Matt Urban Hope Center Director Marlies Wesolowski asked about during the questions at the presentation?
But in many ways, what may seem like “one small step” for a consulting team is actually “one giant leap” for the Central Terminal and the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. Together, the Terminal and its neighborhood have been in a downward spiral of decay for nearly half a century. What was once a free-fall has been slowed, but never halted. This is the week that it became clear that we are finally going to bend that curve toward the upward trajectory everyone has longed for – for both the Terminal and the neighborhood. In and of itself, that’s big – even if long, long overdue.
And in fact, that was among the sentiments I heard from those in attendance. Fillmore District Councilman David Franczyk, who has fought with more than one mayor over past neglect at the Broadway Market, and with the Diocese of Buffalo over neglect of churches, told me that the big news from the ULI presentation is that City Hall and New York State went on record, committing to a turnaround of both the Central Terminal complex and the neighborhood. It’s not just an election year promise, and there is no going back. A long-time CTRC board member also opined thus.
Winners and Losers
We’ve become a society that likes to frame news in terms of winners and losers. At the risk of contributing to that trend, it’s reasonable to ask who are the winners and losers in the ULI recommendations?
Arguably, the big winner this week was the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation. Their board and volunteers shone all week. Their board president, Architect Paul Lang, was professional and statesmanlike. He seemed to have the trust and respect of everyone involved. He was in a difficult position, because, although CTRC was technically the client for the ULI study, it was entirely funded by others. But in a week of watching this process as closely as someone outside it could, I never once saw any sign that either the study team or sponsors diminished or payed lip service to CTRC’s role.
As for losers, some might jump to the conclusion that the Stinson team “lost” in this process. I sat behind the Stinson team in the presentation, and I can’t say that they exhibited head-nodding enthusiasm for what they saw and heard. And, if the ULI’s recommendations are followed, they won’t be receiving the keys to the Central Terminal that they were confident of getting just two months ago, before a sudden change in direction by CTRC.
But it would be premature to count out the Stinson team. Developable spaces at the Central Terminal complex will still need developers to develop them. Because development. And the most kinetic member of Stinson’s local team, developer Doug Swift, has a track record for tackling unconventional, stretch projects. But only the Stinson team can decide if it still intends to be engaged in the future of the Central Terminal in this new day. They told Buffalo Rising they will be issuing a statement.
Most fundamentally, the presentation told us what model ULI recommends we follow to revitalize the Central Terminal. In part, it is the Richardson model, but the emphasis on creative placemaking and events also borrows heavily from the Silo City model. The ULI team also pointed to Shea’s and the Darwin-Martin House as examples of how efforts sometimes take decades to complete, and in a real sense are never completed.
So while there may be a new day dawning for the Central Terminal, before it turns to dusk there will be many promises to keep. And miles and miles to go before we sleep.