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“Getting Adaptive Use Right” – ULI’s Final Report on Central Terminal

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) has released its final panel report on the Central Terminal (see PDF). The report starts with a few ULI observations:

  • The fate of the Central Terminal is directly linked to the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. The terminal has stood as a prominent symbol of the blight of the East Side for too long; it needs to become a beacon of light.
  • The neighborhood is the front door to the Central Terminal, and the terminal is the icon and can be an anchor of the neighborhood. Planning and development must be conducted in tandem to their mutual benefit.
  • Currently the Central Terminal has little to no market value; this value needs to be created to establish a market.
  • Creating a year-round, regional event venue using the diverse spaces on the main concourse of the Central Terminal is the best way to create that value.
  • This venue needs to appeal to a diverse, multi-ethnic clientele that includes residents of the neighborhood in the entrepreneurial activities and opportunities.
  • The CTRC has been an excellent custodian of the facility and is the right entity to carry its mission forward, but the CTRC now must broaden its focus into promotion, management, and active planning for the future. It should partner with the city, the state, and others to engage in a neighborhood planning effort.

The following key recommendations are laid down:

  • Create a master plan and neighborhood plan to guide redevelopment and ensure future success.
  • Use the new master plan to establish a phased renovation and development approach, but don’t wait to get started. The time is now for tactical interventions that bring ideas and interest to the project. This includes creating a year-round event venue.
  • Do not focus on full restoration but instead stabilize the Central Terminal to prepare the complex for adaptive use and make it “shovel-ready” for the next wave of development. Have the CTRC retain a role and ownership stake in any future development activities.
  • Since the CTRC should not focus on full restoration, the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation should change its name to either the Central Terminal Reuse Corporation or, more simply, the Central Terminal Corporation.
  • Create physical, economic, and emotional connections between the Central Terminal and the surrounding neighborhood—specifically to the Broadway Market and other local neighborhood institutions and initiatives.
  • Use creative placemaking at the Central Terminal to better spur community engagement with the BroadwayFillmore neighborhood, the city of Buffalo, and the broader Buffalo-Niagara region.
  • Promote job creation for the neighborhood by bringing in new uses and activities from within and outside the neighborhood.
  • Invest in the surrounding Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood to create value for future investment in the Central Terminal. Embrace the new “Green Code” and existing zoning to creatively use vacant land within the BroadwayFillmore neighborhood

Much of what the ULI is proposing is based around the idea of “value creation” – in order to create value within the entity, it is suggested that a formal organization is put in place, with paid positions for an Executive Director and staff (including an events programmer). The thought is to discontinue spending gobs of money on restoring the structure, which has been stabilized, and look towards building a short term viable destination, while identifying broader funding opportunities. In the meantime, look towards creating a more walkable and outwardly ‘friendly in appearance’ destination. Fulfill the vision of Complete Streets by moving away from the car-centric destination, to one that is bike and pedestrian friendly. Create a greater variety of housing stock in the neighborhood, and work with like-minded community organizations and businesses that can help implement urbanist measures ranging from pop-up shops to the grassroots entrepreneurial use of vacant lots. Also, work towards the creation of Community Land Trusts.

ULI suggested that the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CTRC) change its name to Central either “the Central Terminal Reuse Corporation or more simply, the Central Terminal Corporation.” It was also suggested that “CTRC should retain a role and ownership stake in any future development of the complex.”

As for the future of the Central Terminal Complex, ULI drew up conceptual renderings for interior uses and activities – placemaking might include a restaurant, and/or a pop-up ice rink in the winter. 


Immediate, near-term, and longterm needs were broken down as follows:

ULI also made note that of the importance of creating a destination that was not isolated, by implementing an extension of the Olmsted Master Plan, which would serve to link the complex to the rest of the city, while creating a vista of tree-lined drives with a central Olmstedian circle. The dedicated green space would become an outdoor recreation area for the whole city, with an amphitheater, pond, and picnic benches, for example.

As for transportation, the Belt Line (for an industrial user) was the closest thing that the ULI came to anything groundbreaking, with reasoning that, as the city continues to rebound, the line might make sense down the road. The ULI panel did acknowledge the groundswell of support for Light Rail to the airport, by stating that if it was to happen, a route within close range of The Terminal would also be advantageous for the entire Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood.

Concluding, the ULI noted that the imperatives of the report’s approach are numerous:

  • The Buffalo Central Terminal is an iconic but tarnished gem in the necklace of Buffalo’s signature architecture. It should become the signal beacon of East Side revitalization.
  • The adaptive use of this highly visible symbol is vital to the success and revival of this neighborhood and the East Side.
  • The Central Terminal’s tower must become a visual and physical manifestation of the East Side’s revival.
  • Creating real physical, social, and emotional connections between the Central Terminal and the BroadwayFillmore neighborhood is critical to achieving that goal.
  • A symbiotic relationship exists between the facility and the neighborhood; one cannot succeed without the other. Physical and social barriers between the two must be broken down to arrive at mutual success.

Lead image: Buffalo Central Terminal (Betsy del Monte/ULI).

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

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