Paul Lang and I reconnected for the second half of our conversation on the future of the Central Terminal. Part two focused on the recently completed ULI/Urban Land Institute study, both the process around the study and the study’s recommendations. Most of the study’s recommendations fall into two areas: establishing market value for the Terminal and placemaking to assist with redevelopment. The Central Terminal’s website states “It is the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation’s mission to restore and revive this national landmark.” Throughout the CTRC’s time as steward of the Terminal, restoration has been the focus. The new emphasis on placemaking in the ULI study poses a potentially significant change of mission, scope and emphasis for the CTRC.
BFA: The ULI study is arranged as providing answers to a set of questions. How were these questions developed?
Paul: Empire State Development (ESD), the City of Buffalo, BUDC (Buffalo Urban Development Corporation) and the CTRC held a series of meetings, with guidance from ULI. A private donor provided seed money for the study, paired with the City and BUDC, which worked additional channels, so there was no cost to CTRC for the study.
BFA: How did Buffalo manage to land a ULI study for the Terminal?
Paul: Howard Zemsky from Empire State Development steered with his experience in the development process beforehand, plus he had personal experience with Larkinville. His wife Leslie worked quietly behind the scenes.
BFA: Has Buffalo ever had a ULI study experience before?
Paul: Yes, there have been four ULI studies in Buffalo: Richardson, Seneca One, and Gates Circle Hospital, and the Terminal is the fourth ULI.
BFA: How were interviewees identified?
Paul: Interviewees were identified by sponsors who all submitted lists of names. None of the CTRC membership participated in interviews. CTRC board members were part of an introductory dinner on the first night plus a tour led by Mark Lewandowski and me. The list of interviewees tried to strike a balance between community, business, non-profit, and the neighborhood. They were all done in one day, over 100 interviews!
BFA: After that day of interviews, how was the rest of the study arranged?
Paul: Questions were divided by skill set among panelists. After the interviews, panelists digested what they heard over 48 hours, then produced a summary report which they shared that Friday morning. There were a lot of disappointed people who weren’t interviewed. The actual writing and formatting of the final, finished report was done later after they left Buffalo.
BFA: How is land ownership of the Central Terminal arranged? Or maybe divided up? The ULI report mentions land ownership.
Paul: Land ownership of 59 Memorial Drive has to be acquired from the City. CSX owns and uses the tracks behind the Terminal, and is agreeable to activities going forward with for example air rights. But they are still using their parcel for trains. It has two sets of tracks with land in between. Amtrak is open to a sale of their property if there was a development plan in place for the Terminal and their parcel.
BFA: Can you discuss 59 Memorial Drive and plans for this parcel a little more?
Paul: The City has been a very good partner about 59 Memorial. Apparent inaction is the City protecting the property from undesired usages. Offers have come through and they have vetted them. They haven’t gone forward because they have not met City or CTRC standards.
BFA: Returning to the Olmsted topic and greenspace, has CTRC had any internal discussions about this? Recently, Olmsted restoration and preservation has received a lot of attention.
Paul: Regarding any Olmsted park tie in, the issue is who takes care of it? We do have a lot of green space. The original parking area is now a sweeping green landscape. When we mow it, we are mowing cinders. So it wasn’t green space originally.
BFA: The ULI study talks at length about place making and community development and actually says that should be the focus going forward. It also suggests a name change for the CTRC. How do you feel about this?
Paul: I hate it! I hate the idea of restoration and preservation taking a back seat.
BFA: Let’s discuss the ULI suggestion for renaming the CTRC.
Paul: Regarding branding, the CTRC is confident in brand recognition. There is a debate about renaming the organization and revising its mission.
BFA: What is your vision for how the Terminal project next steps will go forward?
Paul: We need to begin by embracing the community. Regarding professionalization of staff, we then need to focus on our mission statement since it will impact what kind of person is hired and their job description.
BFA: Has the CTRC inventoried or prioritized work that needs to be done on the Terminal?
Paul: We had an updated historic structures report done in 1996, and updated it again in 2012. Probably it’s time to update it again. The prioritization is on stabilization and masonry repairs.
BFA: The ULI study said the Terminal has no inherent value and must create its own value through place making. Do you agree?
Paul: We believe there is inherent market value to the property as a potential development project. It has industrial warehouse possibilities. Regardless of how we go forward with developing the property, the CTRC wants it to be an active concourse that is public space.
BFA: What other sources do you see being tapped for funding? The revenue stream or cash flow from place making and community development is generally much less than for a real estate development or a preservation project.
Paul: We have to overcome the neighborhood to get dollars flowing from the private sector and even from the state. There are numbers from the City, UB’s research branch, and Empire State Development. There is a new booklet ESD put together, drafts of it have leaked out, which breaks down development facts and figures between corridors in the City. It touts a large number for state investment over the last five years, but this is actually three major state projects like Northland.
BFA: Has CTRC considered a second corporation, one to restore the building and one to engage in community building and events?
Paul: The odds are if there is a private developer partner there will be an offshoot organization. CTRC wants to maintain stewardship of the building. Most likely it will be a joint venture between a for-profit and a non-profit. We know national developers like Krug, Douglas, and Generations are starting to sniff around. These aren’t local developers. Locally, only an avant garde niche developer like Rocco would take this one. Otherwise it will be a national developer with a bigger bankroll.
BFA: If I were a trendy loft live/work/play prospect, could I rent space now?
Paul: You probably could, now that the electrical service is upgraded. The heating would be electric, so yes. The grant that was used for electrical, was originally going to be used to repair the canopies at entrances. But we found that electrical service upgrades were more pressing, so for instance it will now be possible to activate the restaurant space in the concourse.
BFA: This property looks great for sustainable energy. Lots of space for geothermal and solar. There could be an amazing solar array on this property.
Paul: We need a full project to address geothermal or a solar array, Same situation as with brownfield status. The Terminal is mostly built out on its plot. 59 Memorial has most of the open land for something like geothermal or a solar array. Solar panels are coming for free from an old NYSERDA grant.
BFA: How about asking Tesla for a solar roof?
Paul: There is a preservation aspect to the roof that might make a Tesla roof not a fit. There is a flat roof over the four story building that would be suitable for solar, and sections of the waiting room would be suitable too. As it is now, the Terminal can’t demonstrate sufficient electrical demand or usage. It would have to be part of a larger end user development project.
The CTRC will shortly receive the $5 million grant from Empire State Development. It will hopefully receive assistance from area foundations in the professionalization of staff. The ULI study is in hand now. This combined investment in the Terminal exceeds anything since the last passenger train in October 1979. Still open is the actual reuse of the Terminal, as well as the nature of its ties to the nearby community.
The goal of ULI advisory services panels is to provide advice that is expert, independent and candid. For this reason, the standard methodology for these studies means panelists aren’t interested parties and usually aren’t local. They are national experts in the fields of real estate, land use, design and urban planning. The goal of these studies, according to the ULI website, is to “bring outside points of view to help kick-start critical conversations and move beyond decision-making dead ends.” Typically ULI advisory studies are used to solve complicated land use and real estate development challenges. There have been five ULI studies of Buffalo sites over the past decade (links to each study are provided at the conclusion), and it’s clear from the sites involved that they have represented some of Buffalo’s most difficult re-use questions. Three of these studies are for sites that are now successfully redeveloped, or well along the path to completion, while two are very much works in process.
Here are links to all five ULI studies of Buffalo sites. Note that while the links work at the time of publication of this interview in early July 2018, the ULI website states that sometime during summer 2018 all case studies will go behind a paywall, accessible only to ULI members.
2007 Richardson-Olmsted International Center:
2008 Artspace Buffalo Lofts:
2011 Rebuilding the Olmsted Vision at Gates Circle:
2013 One HSBC Center:
2017 Central Terminal:
Here are some photos from recent car show at the Central Terminal. (Click on images for full view.)