When passenger rail service declined throughout the ‘50’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s, the majority of America’s magnificent old train stations were rendered obsolete. In Buffalo, we know the dire consequences of this decline as experienced at our own magnificent Art Deco masterpiece, the Central Terminal. Cavernous train stations are a difficult fit for many adaptive reuses and due to the quality of the original materials and levels of decay experienced by many of these great stations, restoration can prove to be very costly.
Entering the picture last year with an intriguing solution is my friend, colleague and CTRC team member, Nick Kraus, who wrote his master thesis on the use of federal transportation funding sources such as SAFETEA-LU, which was the subject of a public meeting held Monday at Medaille College, as facilitated by Congressman Brian Higgins. In Nick’s thesis, he explains how Worcester, Massachusetts successfully used a combination of federal transportation funding sources (preceding SAFETEA-LU) to finance approximately 80% of the 2000 rehabilitation of their beautiful Beaux Arts Union Station from a decaying shell to an intermodal transportation facility.
As you can see by the before and after photos here:
Union Station was in even worse condition than that of the Central Terminal. As Nick wrote in his thesis: “It is most important to note that the project was specified as a rehabilitation. Under the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties there are four categories of treatment: preserving, rehabilitating, restoring and reconstructing.
If Union Station was restored, it would have been necessary to replicate every original feature on the building. Since the project was a rehabilitation, the design team had leeway in deciding what original features were replicated so long as the “character defining features” of the station were not adversely affected. Changes to the station can be seen in both the Main Hall and Rotunda.
In the Main Hall the terrazzo floor has been replaced with the same material but exhibiting a different pattern, and the Mahogany benches have been omitted to create an open gathering space. The Rotunda features a grand staircase leading to the railroad platform that was not originally extant. While these changes clearly do not replicate the historical design of the building, they cause no harm to the historic and architecturally significant features of the building and therefore are acceptable”.
The Worcester station has certainly regained its beauty and function. Imagine if the same process were to happen for the Central Terminal. It once housed not only a passenger rail station, but a bus company, taxi company and was originally designed to accommodate trolleys as well. The infrastructure for all that remains at the terminal to this day, but add to it the adaptability for light rail and high speed rail, and the need for public transportation and jobs in the Broadway Fillmore area and this idea is given more credence.
While there is certainly no argument that many of Buffalo’s infrastructural elements need immediate attention, the same case could be made that the Central Terminal is an infrastructure element that requires immediate attention. Without the CTRC acting as caretakers, the ultimate fate of the terminal would be a painfully slow demolition-by-neglect, with an estimated $20 million price tag for the City of Buffalo. To me, that is not a viable option, whereas this idea could be.
I am not proposing that all federal transportation funding allocated for the City of Buffalo be dedicated to the terminal, but as an additional incentive, and along with Empire Zone benefits and other historic tax credits, it makes the estimated $100 million rehabilitation more palatable to potential developers. So I ask myself, “if Worcester can do it, why can’t we?” I, for one, will be pitching the idea to our local and federal representatives.
Michael Miller is president of the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation.
Nick's thesis can be found here:
The Buffalo Rising article can be found here: