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Panel pondering Buffalo's future train station site hosts first public hearing

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

The committee formed by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown to determine where the city's future Amtrak station will go held its first public hearing Thursday morning in City Hall.

More than two dozen people were scheduled to offer remarks and brief presentations at the first public hearing hosted by Mayor Brown's panel, which is composed of more than two dozen members.


The committee was formed in response to a challenge by Governor Andrew Cuomo who, during a visit to Roswell Park Cancer Institute last fall, surprised his audience by offering one million dollars to cover consulting costs. There was a catch: the committee needed to come up with its idea within a six-month span.

That was three months ago.

Over the next several weeks these committee members, with assistance from the New York State Department of Transportation and selected firm WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, will weigh various opinions and ultimately decide where the city will place its future train station. Options include the existing site on Exchange Street, at a location in the city's Larkinville neighborhood, the shuttered Central Terminal and somewhere in downtown Buffalo.

"Five locations have been put on the table," Mayor Brown said. "Our job is to be open, transparent and objective in listening to the members of the community."

Reopening the Central Terminal is one of the more popular choices and one that is backed by elected officials including Congressman Brian Higgins, Assemblyman Sean Ryan and Buffalo Common Councilmember David Franczyk, the latter of whom lives nearby in Buffalo's Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. 

Other supporters of the Central Terminal option renewed their case in a small rally in Niagara Square just before the hearing was scheduled to begin.

Steve Karnath, executive director of Broadway Fillmore Neighborhood Housing Services, has lived in that neighborhood for about three years and says properties are being bought and the crime rate is much lower than what skeptics may believe. It's a neighborhood he and many others believe is due for its own economic turnaround and supporters of reopening Central Terminal believe the physical assets are already in place to make it the ideal choice.

Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO
Eddy Dobosiewicz (left) declares "all aboard" during a small rally in Niagara Square in support of choosing the Central Terminal for Buffalo's future train station.

"If the question is which is the best transportation center, in terms of ease of transportation, it's the Central Terminal," Karnath said. "If it's a cost benefit analysis, in terms of which is the easiest location to being on board, it's the Central Terminal."

Central Terminal supporters see the opening of a new train station as a catalyst for other development. However, another school of thought emerged in Thursday's public hearing as well. It's the thought that a train station would make more sense where destinations - and visitors - already exist. That, said other speakers, is in downtown Buffalo. 

Among the entities backing a downtown station are the Buffalo Sabres and HarborCenter. Michael Gilbert, executive vice president for the Sabres and General Manager of HarborCenter, represented the institutions in City Hall. 

"There's a resurgence in downtown. Canalside and some of the other areas," Gilbert said. "For people to come into downtown on a train, get on the light rail and go to some of the other destinations, we feel strongly that that's the best location for the growth of Buffalo."

Pegula Sports and Entertainment, whose holdings include the Sabres and HarborCenter, will host an NCAA men's basketball tournament round in March, and then host the World Junior Hockey Championship at the end of this year. While it's too late to offer train service to out-of-town visitors for these events, Gilbert and other advocates for a downtown station are hopeful that will change in the future.

"We're actively trying to get other NCAA events here in Buffalo in years to come. We'd love to be able to say 'hey, there's a train station downtown to help move the people around.'"

New York State is expected to release $25 million for a new Buffalo train station in 2019. It's anticipated they'll pursue matching federal funds.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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