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Train station cost could supersede public 'vote' for Central Terminal

WBFO's Mike Desmond

The unofficial vote went to Amtrak returning to Broadway-Fillmore's Central Terminal during a packed and occasionally raucous public meeting Tuesday night at the Buffalo Science Museum.

Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant said she went around the room, essentially getting people to vote on either Buffalo's Central Terminal or Canalside for the station needed to replace Amtrak's current aging structure on Exchange Street. She gathered more than 100 signatures for the Central Terminal and few for Canalside.

Buffalo School Board Member Paulette Woods said passengers should be coming back to the Central Terminal.

"Buffalo always seems to half-step," she said. "We could have had a signature bridge connecting Canada and the United States, but no, we got a trolley. Every time something that could be a major economic stimulus, put us on the mark, be something grand, we always come up with some little box thing downtown, squeezed in somewhere."

Actually, there are four different downtown sites being considered for the new station, mostly clustered around the Exchange Street and costing an estimated $34-$86 million. If the new station were to call the Central Terminal home, estimates range from $68-$149 million.

However, developer Harry Stinson said it maybe less because the project could tie into his $100 million plans for developing the terminal and surrounding area.

"The first time we actually saw these design options was today, which is a bit frustrating, but all of them can work," Stinson said. "What I'm trying to clarify with them is drawing out these cost estimates before even talking to us is premature, because some of the things I don't know what in those costs were things that we might have been doing anyway. We're happy to work with them, so I think the costs can be a lot less."

Stinson said he may gain control of the terminal complex as early as this week, with legal papers ready to be signed. The Toronto developer said he wants to start repair work on the terminal tower this summer.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

State-hired consultants Parsons-Brinckerhoff are looking at the Central Terminal, the Exchange Street Station and Larkinville. For a lot of reasons explained to the crowd, Larkinville has been ruled out.

Architect Adam Sokol said the Central Terminal is too big a project and there is no consideration of the current Depew station.

"With the downtown options, whether it's Exchange or Canalside, it doesn't get the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago into downtown," he said. "Currently, today, three-fourths of the Amtrak ridership is in Depew rather than Exchange because Amtrak sees that as the main station. So if we build a new station in downtown, Depew will continue to be the main station. What a wasted opportunity for the city."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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