Developer Rocco R. Termini’s enthusiasm for rehabilitating the former Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Terminal has waned in recent months, dampening optimism for a public commercial space at the foot of Main Street.
Termini now says he remains interested in the possibilities offered by the cavernous space above the Metro Rail shops owned by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. But uncertainty prompts him to slow any approach, he said, despite the recent explosion of construction activity in the area.
“I think we’ll wait and see what happens with the Pegula project,” he said, referring to the HarborCenter hotel and ice rink complex championed by Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula. “At this point, there’s not that much interest.”
Termini, whose Signature Development Co. spearheaded the redevelopment of the historic Hotel @ Lafayette in downtown Buffalo, was urged by Rep. Brian Higgins to tackle the DL&W Terminal as his next major project. As a result, Termini said in February he envisioned the terminal’s 80,000 square feet of indoor space along with another 60,000 square feet of outdoor patio as an ideal venue for a public market similar to train shed developments at Union Station in St. Louis or the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.
He said then, however, that $10 million to $15 million in public money would be needed to jump-start development at the site.
Higgins also envisioned a mecca for boaters throughout the Great Lakes at the waterfront site. And while both acknowledged at the time that they had reached only the “brainstorming” stage, Higgins was encouraging Termini to use his “experience in adaptive reuse” to explore the idea.
“We were just testing the waters,” Termini now says. “We were looking for some positive reaction, but it just died. Everybody wants to see what happens with the Sabres project.”
Still, the NFTA touts the 1917 former train shed as brimming with potential, especially as new projects blossom at the former Donovan Building, the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium site and the Sabres complex. All are seen as potentially pumping new life into the area.
Metro Rail trains have been rumbling in and out of the DL&W Terminal since service started in 1984, taking up where the Erie-Lackawanna – the DL&W’s successor – left off after passenger service ended in 1962. But while the former freight house below houses Metro Rail trains, the vast second floor – with its unique concrete reinforced roof – offers development potential, NFTA officials say.
NFTA spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer said the authority’s real estate officials continue to show the DL&W property regularly but without any real interest. Still, the NFTA has applied for about $200,000 from the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council to finance a feasibility study for the terminal and Metro Rail “events station” that services First Niagara Center.
“This would determine the highest and best uses for that property that complements all the other development taking place at Canalside,” he said.
In a related development, officials of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, as well as the NFTA and Buffalo Sabres, have all urged study of extending Metro Rail service through the DL&W to a point about 2,000 feet south in the Old First Ward, where they envision a parking garage serving Niagara Thruway commuters who could board Metro Rail for a quick trip to the Medical Campus, where parking will be limited.
Hartmayer said the authority is attempting to secure grant money to at least partially fund a study – also pegged at $200,000 – of extending the Metro Rail into the Old First Ward.
Termini said in February he was not looking forward to dealing with NFTA bureaucracy if he attempted the project. But now he believes the authority wants to be a “good neighbor” and that Chairman Howard A. Zemsky is interested in promoting the property to fit with nearby projects. But he says an “overall development plan for the whole area” must come first.