By DAVID J. HILL
Published December 7, 2022
The Central Terminal stands as one of Buffalo’s most iconic buildings, its clock tower watching over the city’s rapidly changing Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. Thanks to a massive nonprofit effort, tens of millions of dollars in public and private funding has been funneled to the Central Terminal Restoration Corp. in support of future redevelopment of the Main Terminal building, the Mail and Baggage building and the Great Lawn as a community and economic hub.
The land surrounding the Central Terminal, however, are not as grandiose, and their future is far less crystallized. The former Railway Post Office and Railway Express Agency buildings sit in disrepair with roof damage and busted out windows.
Farther afield are the former railroad tracks, most of which have been removed and turned into vacant, overgrown land. The disinvested, but growing, Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood surrounds all of this.
Over the past few months, 25 graduate students in the School of Architecture and Planning have been crafting proposals to transform the land owned by the city of Buffalo that is adjacent to the prominent Main Terminal building with the passenger concourse, which covers more than 16 acres, with forward-thinking redevelopment plans aimed at creating a more vibrant, inclusive and sustainable Broadway-Fillmore. This capstone course builds on the efforts that are underway by the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation.
Students in a capstone course taught by Matthew Roland in the real estate development master’s program are working in mixed teams with students from an architecture studio taught by Conrad Kickert. There are five students to a team, with the architecture students responsible for the design of the project and the real estate students charged with providing a viable site program and calculating development costs, also known as creating a pro-forma.
For Kira Podmayersky, this semester marks the first time as an architecture student that she’s had to design a project within a budget. It’s been a challenge, but she’s enjoyed the perspective brought by the real estate students on her team.
“They bring a financial lens and a practical approach to the work that is not always there when only working among other architects,” says Podmayersky, a first-year master of architecture student who also received her bachelor’s in architecture from UB. “They bring a voice from a real estate perspective to this large-scale project, which is a different voice than for a single client.”
Her team is developing a mixed-use intergenerational neighborhood that provides housing options and amenities for all walks of life.
“In the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood, there are currently a lack of options and opportunities for certain age groups, so we wanted to fill those gaps to create a space where anyone could live their entire lives,” Podmayersky says. “We accomplished this by creating jobs, community gathering space, park space, rentable units, lease-to-own townhomes and connections to transit, just to name a few.”
Roland’s real estate development class is following the same processes a developer would with a real-world project under contract, including conducting due diligence, site analysis, land use approval and financial analysis before closing.
They’re examining what’s impacted the neighborhood, from redlining to a lack of adequate food and transportation. Despite suffering from decades of disinvestment, Broadway-Fillmore is quickly turning around and is actually the city’s fastest growing neighborhood, experiencing a 30% increase in population from 2010 to 2020, due largely to an influx of new Americans.
“It’s great for our real estate students to be able to do all of this in tandem with Conrad’s students because we get the benefit of their designs and Conrad’s students benefit from our financial analysis, so we’re doing a project that’s actually feasible,” says Roland, assistant dean for the real estate development program and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning.
It can be challenging to make the numbers work, Roland notes, but the site presents itself with a host of economic development incentives, like historic, new market and brownfield tax credits. “I tell the students, if you can make the numbers work on a project like this, you can make them work for a project anywhere in the country,” Roland says.
“It’s so cool, because we had one team earlier in the semester present and I asked ‘OK, real estate students, is this viable?’ And they said no, it’s not,” says Kickert, assistant professor in the Department of Architecture. “The architects were upset. After all, they had to go back to the drawing board. I thought this feedback loop is perfect because this is what happens regularly in practice. This project is a really good approximation for both groups of students of what the real-world process of building a city and making an impact looks like.”
Enrico D’Abate’s team is creating a proposal that focuses on affordable housing for everyone across all stages of life, paying particular attention to addressing the loneliness and isolation that older adults often feel. D’Abate has enjoyed putting together the programming of the development project and structuring the financing and costs. He’s also been impressed with the architecture students.
“I think, for my real estate partner and me, this is some great hands-on experience working with architects in order to find common ground between design and cost, as this is an important aspect of the development process that is hard to replicate in theory,” says D’Abate, who is in the third semester of the real estate development master’s program. “They’ve been able to conceptualize a lot of our group ideas into a cohesive and impactful design.”
For the instructors, the project represents a continuation of the School of Architecture and Planning’s decades-long involvement in neighborhoods across Buffalo, particularly the city’s East Side.
“This reflects the school’s commitment to be actively involved in this neighborhood and make a positive impact,” says Kickert, who served on the committee that vetted the 11 transformational projects for Broadway-Fillmore that were announced in mid-November as part of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative. In addition, Roland provides service to the East Side Avenues initiative, which was created by the UB Regional Institute in conjunction with Empire State Development and the city of Buffalo.
But there’s an even greater aspiration to the students’ work. The proposals they create this semester can elevate the possibilities for the future of the city of Buffalo-owned land adjacent to the prominent Main Terminal building with the passenger concourse at a key moment for the site, according to Kickert, noting that each proposal must incorporate affordable housing, living wage jobs, green infrastructure (potentially linking with a future beltway), a creative new use for the two buildings on site, and connection to a future light rail system running south of the site.
Over the summer, the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation, the nonprofit that owns the Main Terminal building, in partnership with the city of Buffalo, which owns the 16 acres that students are exploring, announced a request for expression of interest to seek development partners to advance the reuse of the Central Terminal campus in alignment with the community-driven master plan.
“As we speak, developers are doing the same work that we are doing, and our work may influence the decision-making process for one of the largest sites on the East Side of Buffalo,” Kickert says. “We’re trying to also raise the bar for what’s possible in this neighborhood by presenting some viable options.”
Kickert and Roland designed the semester around the idea of a competition. On Dec. 7, each team will present its project to a jury comprising neighborhood stakeholders, including Central Terminal Restoration Corporation Executive Director Monica Pellegrino Faix; Stephen Karnath, executive director of Broadway Fillmore Neighborhood Housing Services; Lisa Hicks of the Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning and a graduate of UB’s real estate development program; Chris Hawley of the Buffalo Planning Division; and Alan Oberst, a frequent contributor to Buffalo Rising.
While the winning team will receive a small prize, it seems each student will come out a winner in some way.
“This project has helped me prepare for how interactions with real estate developers would impact my design, which is valuable knowledge to have before stepping out into practice,” says Podmayersky.
What a fabulous focus for these students and for the community! Thank you!
Tying in the community is great! I thought the older adult loneliness was a good thought. To tie it together, a senior home on the mid floors, destination restaurant at the top for the view, tie in the airport with a rapid-rail link for business meetings and a conference center, hotel and ballroom, and maybe a satellite site for drop-off for the airport — a 20th-century transportation building supporting 21st-century transportation and infrastructure. It will be 100 years old in 2029. A freight terminal delivering solar power instead of boxes! There's lots of potential. Can’t wait for the groundbreaking. Lots of cities have repurposed the station: Cleveland, Cincinnati, Kansas City, St Louis (it is a Marriott!).