BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Central Terminal is a small-scale museum of local rail, the kickoff site of this week’s Dyngus Day Parade, even the backdrop for two major motion pictures.
But it will not be the city’s new train station.
By a vote of 10-4, with one abstention, the train station site selection committee recommended building a new train station downtown.
Whether passengers will get off at Canalside, near the existing Exchange Street location or another site altogether, will be up to the state Department of Transportation.
The biggest advantage to a downtown station, according to supporters: Proximity to hotels and restaurants and other modes of transportation.
“When we started out, there were something like 20 criteria that were boiled down to about six factors,” said Mayor Byron Brown, the committee chairman. “Money was certainly one of them, multi-modal access was another factor that was important, and connectivity.”
“I think we need to do what’s right for the few people who will ride the train, that when they get off, they want to get to our rapid rail — which is not that rapid — if they want to get to that, it’s there,” said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “If they want to get on a bus, it’s there. If they want to get to a hotel, it’s there.”
The decision was made despite what Congressman Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said was overwhelming support from the public — more than 80 percent of those surveyed — in favor of Central Terminal.
“I think this was a generational opportunity lost,” Higgins said. “I think this is a sub-optimal outcome but it’s the outcome that we have.”
The recommendation will now be passed on to Albany, which will lead the project that could take another five to seven years to complete.
“I think they are going to be very focused on moving this process forward very aggressively as quickly as possible to make sure the train station is built out as quickly as possible,” Brown said.
Those who voted against the downtown selection said at the very least, the six-month process has drawn more attention to some kind of re-use of the Central Terminal.
That means investment, and Peoples-Stokes Thursday announced $250,000 from the state that will be used for electrical upgrades at the historic site.
The decision over where to locate Buffalo’s new train station has been hotly debated from the beginning.
And the process, by design, has been an open one, with multiple public meetings, public comment periods and chances for the public to sound off. But that seemed to do little to curb the belief those efforts were even necessary.
“I believe they already know, even before the process started, where they wanted this,” said Buffalo Mayoral candidate Mark Schroeder.
What some described as a lack of transparency seemed to come to a head at decision time Thursday, when more than a dozen people trying to participate in the stakeholders’ meeting were turned away.
“It doesn’t matter what happens in that public room, in this public process, that the public is being denied access to,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.
Because the meeting was being held on private property, and the committee is not considered a public body, Buffalo officers issued an ultimatum after several warnings to disperse.
“All decisions come from Mayor Brown. All decisions to exclude the public come from Mayor Brown. I can’t blame anyone but Mayor Brown because he chairs this committee,” said Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant. “He is barring the public who has elected him.”
Beyond the fact the committee was within their legal right to close the meeting, and the multiple public meetings in advance, Brown said part of the reason was logistics, in case some members couldn’t make the vote.
“This was a decision that was made at the beginning of the process because of the teleconferencing capability,” he said.
The state’s Committee on Open Government said Thursday morning the selection committee was not considered a public body, despite the fact they’re made up of public officials and spending the public’s dollar.
That’s because their formation was not made by any executive order or statue from the governor’s office, which means they do not have to adhere to the state’s open meetings laws.