'The future is real': Development team named to remake Buffalo Central Terminal


Staff member

The Central Terminal has been vacant for all but two of the 47 years Patra Mangus has lived on Fillmore Avenue near Broadway, so when she learned about Thursday’s announcement of a development team for the former train station, it was something of a dream come true.

Photos: Buffalo's Central Terminal

”It was terrible in those early years to watch the Central Terminal crumble and be defaced, but I didn’t ever doubt that something good would happen with that building,” Mangus told The Buffalo News. “This will be like a lighthouse for the neighborhood.”
Buffalo Central Terminal (copy)
Monica Pellegrino Faix, Central Terminal Restoration Corp.’s executive director, is highly optimistic that with “grit and determination... together we are accomplishing what once seemed impossibly out of reach.”
Joshua Bessex photos, Buffalo News

Three members make up the development team: CB Emmanuel Realty, based downstate in Queens Village; the Alexander Company, headquartered in Madison, Wis.; and Rise Community Capital, a business that fosters projects across the country.

The team was chosen after an extensive selection process to remake the Art Deco complex into a thriving commercial, entertainment and residential East Side hub, a multi-phase project envisioned to take 10 years and $300 million to accomplish.

Setting the stage for Thursday was $61 million that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced in June 2022 from the state and several philanthropic supporters, including the City of Buffalo and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

The state also helped the Central Terminal Restoration Corp. develop a master plan that included considerable public involvement.

”Through grit and determination, the Central Terminal was saved by many,” said Monica Pellegrino Faix, the nonprofit’s executive director. “This is a big celebration that the future is real, that our neighborhood is important and that together we are accomplishing what once seemed impossibly out of reach.”
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The main concourse clock inside the Central Terminal.
Joshua Bessex/Buffalo News

Buffalo Central Terminal making progress for the future

Central Terminal Restoration Corp., the nonprofit owner, is working with an architectural and engineering team to better understand the structural condition of the building and plaza, including the underground garage, as it gets ready for future construction.

The Central Terminal, which closed after Amtrak left in 1979, was Buffalo’s last major architectural marvel in need of restoration without a developer, and the only one on the East Side. The train station was designed for the New York Central Railroad by Alfred Fellheimer, the lead architect for the Grand Central Terminal in New York City, and Steward Wagner. It opened in 1929, 3 miles from downtown and four months before the start of the Great Depression, handling some 200 passenger trains and 10,000 travelers a day at its peak, before passenger travel declined steadily after World War II.

Preservationists formed the not-for-profit restoration corporation in 1997 to save the complex, and spent thousands of hours volunteering with the hope an announcement like Thursday’s would someday come about.

Public, private spaces planned​

The amount of stabilization work needed makes it far too soon to say who the future tenants will be, but there are concepts for how the complex could be reused.

Ideas include entertainment and events programming in the concourse, entry plaza and lawn; mixed-income housing and office space in the 17-story tower, and housing and light manufacturing in the 4-story mail & baggage building, all owned by the Central Terminal Restoration Corp. on 12.5 acres.

Other ideas under consideration for the concourse include a regional and international food hall, culinary education space and neighborhood retail.
The city’s 15.5 acres to be developed include the two-story-tall post office building and railway express building. The remaining 32 acres, owned by Amtrak and CSX, aren’t part of the development area.
Buffalo Central Terminal (copy)
Pieces of signage are seen on display above an entrance to the Central Terminal on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.
Joshua Bessex/Buffalo News

Developers were selected jointly by the restoration corporation and City of Buffalo.

“The selected development group brings a combined wealth of experience and a proven track record of revitalizing historic landmarks,” said Hope Knight, Empire State Development’s president. “After a very thorough national search that brought in a number of quality responses, we are confident (the team) will usher in a new era for the Central Terminal, and turn this iconic structure into a catalytic anchor for the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood and East Buffalo and a generational investment in the City of Buffalo.”

Work to get the Central Terminal ready for redevelopment and reuse will include structural stabilization of the concourse, tower building and parking garage, and repair of the Guastavino tile ceiling in the concourse.

”I’m proud to partner with the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation to breathe new life into this historic structure,” Mayor Byron Brown said in a statement, also commending the city’s Office of Strategic Development.

Initial construction will focus on stabilizing the plaza, the 300-space parking garage, the Guastavino tiles that line the interior of the concourse vault, making roof and window repairs and improvements to the grounds.

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CB Emanuel developer Ben Upshaw stands for a portrait inside the Central Terminal.
Joshua Bessex/Buffalo News

A variety of government funding sources will be pursued to improve the buildings and grounds, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Prospects include state and federal historic tax credits, new markets and low income housing tax credits, HOME funds and brownfield grants.

Brown has also committed to make “major infrastructure investments” to improve the Central Terminal’s nearby streetscape.

’An incredible showpiece’​

Ben Upshaw, co-founder and managing partner of CB Emmanuel Realty, was enamored of the Central Terminal when he grew up in the Delavan-Grider neighborhood and often stayed with relatives in Broadway-Fillmore.

”I used to take music lessons at Edwin’s Music Store on Broadway, and I was always enchanted by how incredible and majestic the Central Terminal looked,” said Upshaw, 53. “I understand the role the terminal plays in Buffalo. We know when it’s revitalized it will be an incredible showpiece for not only Buffalo but for the East Side of Buffalo.”

Upshaw said he told his partners how thousands turn out each year on Dyngus Day.
”That shows the generational love for what this building represents and what this neighborhood represents,” he said, adding, “It’s an incredible responsibility.”

Work on stabilizing the buildings will likely occur one project at a time, he said.

”It’s a more palatable approach,” Upshaw said of tackling the 523,000-square-foot property.

Upshaw and co-founder R. Christopher Bramwell Jr., both African American, are involved in the development of more than 3,500 units of housing in the Buffalo-Niagara region, Rochester, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.

The Alexander Company, which specializes in historic preservation and adaptive reuse, is involved in “affordable workforce housing to restoring glory to important landmarks that define cities,” a statement said. The company has worked on large historic preservation projects around the country, though nothing as large as the Central Terminal.
Monica Pellegrino Faix, Central Terminal Restoration Corp.'s executive director, in the Central Terminal on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.
Joshua Bessex/Buffalo News

Rise Community Capital, a minority- and women-owned business, focuses on generating “community and economic development outcomes for working-class communities, substantially in communities of color,” a statement said.

The Central Terminal Restoration Corp. will continue to have an advisory role and be involved in educational and awareness efforts, Faix said.

Selection of the development team concluded a process that began in July 2022 with local and national developer interest. The committee that chose the team involved the not-for-profit’s board, a representative from Empire State Development, two representatives from the Brown administration and a consultant team.
Cost estimates to restore the Central Terminal range from $276.5 million to $296.5 million, “and that’s not including the city parcels,” Upshaw said.
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Light streams in above the ticket booths inside the Central Terminal.
Joshua Bessex/Buffalo News

’They were the dreamers’​

Broadway Fillmore resident Van Taylor remembered riding the train with his father from the Central Terminal in the 1960s. He credits those who were committed to preserving the buildings for making Thursday’s announcement possible.

”It started with the ones who never quit, who never let it go,” Taylor said. “They were the believers, the dreamers. They didn’t have the money but they had the vision.”

Tim Tielman, Scott Field and Tom Hryvniak formed the Central Terminal Restoration Corp. in 1997 and purchased it for $3 with the aim of restoring the building. They did so, Tielman said, with the understanding they would get county money to get rid of a lien on the property, make much-needed repairs and secure the property.

”These big projects sometimes take a long time to reach fruition, but we always thought we have to keep the balls in the air until serendipity happens,” said Tielman, a member of the Community Advisory Committee.

Yuri Hreshchyshyn, who volunteered at the Central Terminal for 20 years – from cleaning up litter to making temporary repairs – expressed excitement about the possibilities, while thinking about the many volunteers who hoped this day would come, including Russell Pawlak and Mike Miller, who died while serving as executive director.

”People have been waiting for a long time,” he said, “for this kind of result.”


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