A new crisis has come upon the star-crossed Central Terminal on Buffalo’s East Side.
While supporters work to implement the master plan they unveiled last year, the roof is literally giving way. Without prompt repairs to protect the building, the prospects of saving the grand old terminal will dim to the point of invisibility.
It’s a big lift, but supporters of the terminal should do all they can to raise the money for the repair job. Without it, grand plans to rehabilitate the landmark will be for naught. By completing the repairs, the possibility of future development remains.
The vaulted roof of the Art Deco terminal is leaking water onto the concourse tiles. It needs to be replaced immediately, at a cost of about $800,000, supporters say. But there’s more. The 17-story tower that rises over the building requires significant roof and masonry repairs that will cost about $3 million.
That, of course, is only the start. Full restoration of the vacant terminal, last used in 1979, is estimated to cost between $50 million and $100 million, a daunting figure for any rehabilitation project, let alone one that occupies one of the poorest neighborhoods in one of the country’s poorest cities.
Yet, this building is special enough, grand enough, massive enough to warrant the effort to save it, especially when there is a plan to reuse it and when the alternatives – abandoning it to ruin or the wrecker’s ball – are so regrettable and unsatisfactory. The only sensible path – the best of bad alternatives – is to find the $800,000 to preserve the possibility of salvaging this tarnished jewel.
The Central Terminal Restoration Corp. has its eyes on that prize. The organization, which bought the terminal for $1 in 1997, produced a plan in March 2011 to reuse the building. It includes market-rate residential space in the tower, refurbished historic elevators and lobbies and renovation of the former water tank room at the top of the tower to provide 360-degree views of Western New York.
Other plans include developing a green business incubator and light industrial operations and resuming train service – a possibility that is linked to the uncertain development of high-speed rail service in the state.
But none of it can happen if the roof isn’t repaired. Unless backers can come up with the funds to fix the roof and prevent what will be inevitable decay, the plans will have no more substance than the echo of a long-ago train whistle.
Securing this money should be doable. The board has shown new strength recently, to the point of hiring an executive director, the organization’s first-ever paid employee. The community, local foundations and historic preservation groups around the country should be able to drum up enough money to fix the roof.
It will take effort from many sources to save the Central Terminal. That work begins with saving the roof.