Buffalo Central Terminal
The Buffalo Central Terminal is a closed railroad station for the New York Central Railroad (NYC) in Buffalo, New York.
The city of Buffalo had several train stations for the various railroads that came into the city that predated Buffalo Central Terminal. A Union Station was proposed to be built on the site of the future Central Terminal in 1889 but was never constructed.
In the early 20th century, the NYC had two stations in Buffalo: the Exchange Street Station and the Terrace Station. Both were old and congested. To alleviate those concerns, the NYC opted to construct a large station 2.5 miles east of the city centre. 4 Its distance, designed to both minimize rail and grade crossing congestion, would be more conveniently located for trains that did not terminate in Buffalo. Additionally, Buffalo was a rapidly growing city and it was believed that the new Central Terminal would be closer to the centre of the Buffalo metropolitan area in the latter 20th century.
The NYC finalized its decision to build the terminal in 1925 and site preparation began a year later. 4 The NYC hired noted railroad architects Alfred Fellheimer and Steward Wagner, to design the new Central Terminal. 11 Fellheimer and Wagner had previously designed the New York Grand Central Station and the Cincinnati Union Terminal.
Construction began shortly after on the 17-floor office tower and terminal complex with steel erection was completed by Premier Fireproofing. 4 The final rivet was driven in December 1928.
The new Central Terminal, completed at a cost of $14 million, opened on June 22, 1929. 2 Over 2,000 attended the Chamber of Commerce Gala in the concourse, the largest event held in Buffalo at the time. 4 Scheduled service began on June 23.
Central Terminal was initially busy, serving nearly 200 trains and 10,000 passengers daily 2 5 from not just the NYC, but from the Canadian National Railway, Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) and the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway. The spacious concourse, 225-feet long and 64-feet high, was airy and expanse. 6
The advent of the Great Depression changed the fortunes of the Central Terminal. In the years that followed the economic collapse of the United States, railroads had far fewer people and goods to transport. The Central Terminal was not immune to those shifts. Following the economic revolt leading up to World War II, passenger numbers rebounded only modestly as automobiles became more affordable to the average working American.
World War II provided a temporary boost in traffic. The Central Terminal was the nucleus of transport in the region, handling the movement of troops, goods and services during the war. 4 After World War II concluded, the Central Terminal saw steady, sustained drops in passenger traffic. Profits began drastically declining by the close of the 1950’s, with passenger operations taking the biggest hit. 17 Freight revenues were suffering from the vast growth of the trucking industry and the St. Lawrence Seaway was chipping away at raw material storage in Buffalo.
The NYC constructed a small depot on Exchange Street in downtown in 1952, replacing the Terrace Station. 17 The new Exchange Street Station initially saw 21 trains per day which syphoned passenger traffic at Central Terminal, which had declined to 99 trains per day.
To lower its tax burden, the NYC began the process of selling many of its assets, including its 406 passenger stations. 17 In 1956, the NYC offered the Central Terminal for sale for $1 million. 4 It had no takers.
In 1959, the Public Service Commission allows the NYC to abandon its Buffalo-Niagara Falls service, one of the primary traffic generators for the Central Terminal. 4 In August, Buffprop Enterprises signed a 25-year lease with the NYC with the intention of converting Central Terminal into a shopping mall and offices. 17 The project never took off and in 1960, Buffprop defaulted on their lease.
The 10-year-old Exchange Street Station was closed in 1962 due to declining use, especially after service to Niagara Falls was discontinued. 18
In an effort to reduce taxes and maintenance, the NYC demolished the Pullman Service Building, Ice House and Power House in 1966. 4 Central Terminal, once home to 200 trains per day, was down to just 22 per day. 17
In 1968, the NYC merged with the PRR to form Penn Central (PC), 4 although the newly formed PC declared bankruptcy in 1970. It continued to operate the terminal until the formation of Amtrak in 1971. Amtrak took over the majority of the intercity passenger service in the United States. Amtrak offered only two trains per day out of Central Terminal to New York City and only a handful of trains per day elsewhere. 17
In 1976, the PC, Lehigh Valley Railroad, Erie-Lackawanna Railroad and Lehigh & Hudson Railroad merge to form Conrail. 4 The Central Terminal’s ownership shifted to the newly formed holding corporation.
On October 29, 1977, the Exchange Street Station was reopened by Amtrak when service between Grand Central Terminal in New York City and Toronto Union Station in Toronto was reinstated. 18 Amtrak then opted to close its operations at Central Terminal in favour of a new suburban station at Depew in 1979. 1 4 The move was motivated by the high costs to maintain and operate Central Terminal, which also required extensive repairs that the railroad and heating bills that often exceeded $150,000 that it was not able to fund.
The new Depew station was housed in a temporary trailer until a permanent building was completed in the fall of 1980. 1 4 The last train, a westbound Lake Shore Limited, departed Central Terminal at 4:10 am on October 28.
The Central Terminal was sold to Anthony T. Fedele and Galesi Realty for $75,000 in 1979. 2 4 Fedele proposed to convert the complex into a 150-room hotel, office and restaurant complex called Central Terminal Plaza. 2 While he was unable to find willing investors for the project, Fedele moved into the tower, converting a second-floor office into a makeshift apartment. While the complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, not much else happened with the proposed Central Terminal Plaza project. 2 4
Conrail vacated its general offices in the tower in 1980 and its dispatching department in 1984. Two interlocking towers that serviced the tracks on the property were shut down in 1985.
The bridge connecting the tower to the concourse was removed in 1981 to enable taller freight cars to pass through the station complex. 4
When Fedele fell behind on paying taxes and in 1986, 2 the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge John W. Creahan ordered a foreclosure sale. The Central Terminal was put up for auction and was won by Thomas Telesco, the only bidder, for $100,000. 4 The separate two-story post office, covered storage buildings and railroad cargo express building was acquired by Adrian in September 1989 from Fedele. 16
Telesco proposed converting the complex into a wedding mall, with bridal and tuxedo shops, a florist shop, bakery, photography studio and other complimentary retail stores. 6 A later proposal called for the concourse to be converted into a flea market and for the station to be reused as part of a proposed high-speed line between New York City and Toronto. 2 None of those plans materialized. Shortly after, Telesco began stripping the complex of its architectural artefacts and other items of value.
In 1990, Adrian Development proposed converting the old post office, covered storage areas and the railroad cargo express building into the Adrian Technical Plaza for $12 million. 16 The railroad cargo express building would be enclosed and become warehouse, office and light manufacturing space while an adjoining building would be renovated into Class B office space. The post office would be converted into 44,000 square-feet of finished space while an adjacent covered area used for cargo storage would be converted into a 5,500 square-foot restaurant. The plan never came to fruition due to logical and financial hurdles.
Bernard Tuchman and his uncle, Samuel Tuchman, attempted to acquire the complex from Telesco in 1992, 2 although he had eyed the property since 1987. 6 Tuchman proposed converting Central Terminal into apartments, offices and retail. The $80 million 12 plan included converting the first three levels of the terminal building into a 600,000 to 800,000 square-foot shopping centre, which would include a nine-screen movie theatre, converting the five-story baggage building into apartments and offices, and converting the tower into a hotel or office complex. 6 Another plan relied on the General Services Administration relocating the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) into the complex, which did not come to fruition due to the costs. 12 The IRS instead relocated to AppleTree Mall in Cheektowaga. 15
Tuchman paid Telesco $350,000 of a total $1.3 million in a purchase-option agreement for the complex, but Telesco continued to strip the building of any valuables, violating the agreement. 2 Eventually, Tuchman won the title to the building.
Under the Tuchman ownership, the building was subject to further deterioration and salvage. Iron railings, signs, lights, mailboxes and anything of value was removed and sold. The building was left unsecured and vandalism and arson attempts over the years took their toll on the structure. The train concourse, owned by Amtrak, was leased to a private contractor for heavy equipment storage in 1993. 4
Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CTRC), a non-profit firm that is part of the Polish Community Center of Buffalo, purchased Central Terminal in August 1997 4 for $1 and the assumption of approximately $25,000 in back taxes. 14
Assemblyman Paul A. Tokasz secured a $15,000 grant to begin work to restore the four clocks on the 10th floor of the terminal tower. 8 The clocks were so heavily damaged that they had to be rebuilt largely from photographs. Each was equipped with a new electric motor and had new faces installed, constructed of sandblasted plate glass and hands of bronzed aluminium. The clocks were relit in a ceremony on October 1, 1999.
In 2000, CTRC obtained a $1 million in funding to secure Central Terminal and complete 300 tons of debris from the building and grounds. 9 10 Work to repair the roof was completed in July.
The clock that was in the centre of the concourse, stripped in the 1980’s, was located in Chicago in 2003. It was purchased for $25,000 in late-2004 through fundraising organized by WBEN and a donation by M&T Bank and restored in 2005. 7 The clock was then displayed in the M&T Bank lobby in downtown until June 2009 when it was relocated to Central Terminal.
In 2012, with assistance from public donations, CTRC acquired one of the concourse’s original light fixtures from an antique dealer in Toronto. After raising $3,000, the dealer agreed to donate the fixture to CTRC.
CTRC began phase one of the replacement of the roof over the passenger waiting room in 2013. Replacement concourse light fixtures were made from the donated original light fixture by Sheet Metal Workers Union 71.
Toronto-based developer Harry Stinson was named by the CTRC as the designated developer for Central Terminal on May 24, 2016. 5 Stinson proposed renovating the tower offices, while the four-story baggage building would become a 179-room hotel. The concourse would be turned into an event venue. A 400 to 500 residential development would be constructed on 15 acres surrounding Central Terminal. 5 11
In September 2016, the roof of the Exchange Street Station partially collapsed. Spurred by the need for a modern train station, Congressman Brian Higgins called for a new facility to be constructed at Central Terminal, a plan supported by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Assemblyman Sean Ryan, State Sen. Tim Kennedy, Fillmore Council Member David Franczyk, Stinson, Citizens for Regional Transit, Preservation Buffalo Niagara and Campaign for Greater Buffalo. 13 The convergence of both mainline and belt line tracks gives Central Terminal access to New York City, Toronto and points west to Cleveland and Chicago. Additionally, Amtrak still passes Central Terminal daily, so adding a new platform and associated connections to Central Terminal would be cheaper than an entirely new station.
A plan to construct a Metro Rail extension east of downtown to Central Terminal and Buffalo-Niagara International Airport is also in the works. 13
Other proposals include putting the train station at Canalside, although it would not be able to serve westbound trains to Cleveland and Chicago. 13 It would necessitate the use of the Depew Station, 11 miles east of Buffalo. A downtown station is also proposed, which would connect to Metro Rail.