HIGGINS’ Taxpayer Funded Plan Should be Derailed

by Matt Ricchizzi

Congressman Brian Higgins is urging the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to spend $43 million to redevelop the DL&W Terminal on South Park along the Buffalo River into a light rail station. That facility would only service the six-mile line that runs along Main Street from the Buffalo River to South Campus, and would not be capable of servicing Amtrak or interact well with city buses.

The more historic section of the Terminal can be easily imagined as a public market – similar to the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto – and operated privately to ensure good management.  Demolishing the train shed annex that the NFTA built to store equipment will allow for the restoration of the historic street grid, and with it three riverfront blocks ripe for development. Restoring the old street grid will make the entire cobblestone district more attractive for development, with a more distinctly waterfront feel.  Repurposing underutilized NFTA waterfront train yards into a bustling mixed-use commercial district that pays property taxes is a win all around. It’s a win for real estate interests, the city coffers, urban design, tourism, and job creation.
The more historic section of the Terminal can be easily imagined as a public market – similar to the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto – and operated privately to ensure good management.
Demolishing the train shed annex that the NFTA built to store equipment will allow for the restoration of the historic street grid, and with it three riverfront blocks ripe for development. Restoring the old street grid will make the entire cobblestone district more attractive for development, with a more distinctly waterfront feel.
Repurposing underutilized NFTA waterfront train yards into a bustling mixed-use commercial district that pays property taxes is a win all around. It’s a win for real estate interests, the city coffers, urban design, tourism, and job creation.

It will be a taxpayer-funded boondoggle with little impact on ridership.

Largely driven by federal transportation grants that could fund up to 80% of the project’s cost, the Higgins’ proposed train terminal project is neither sound urban design nor is it a worthy economic development expenditure.

Aside from Sabers’ games, the station will be largely empty. It will cost taxpayers millions to build and over time millions more to maintain. Tenants wont stay because public management will lead to Broadway Market-like conditions.

The fiscal economics of the city demand that rather than build an excessively large train station because of our insatiable thirst for federal grants, we should instead put every parcel we can back on the tax rolls. The cobblestone district, where the old terminal is located, is among the most prime real estate in the city and could be catalytically served by high quality urban design.

Realigning the light rapid rail off of the riverfront and along South Park Avenue will free up this structure for private investment, and will cost taxpayers far less. The same federal grant funding could be used to relocate the rail lines out of the building and along South Park Avenue.

. The property occupies a half-mile stretch along the north bank of the Buffalo River, just south of Canalside’s Central Wharf. The property stretches from behind the First Niagara Center to the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino. It acts as a wall between the Cobblestone District and the riverfront. Planners increasingly envision the space as a vibrant river walk. Removing transit infrastructure from the river’s edge will allow for the emergence of a pedestrian thoroughfare from the Erie Basin Marina to Ohio Street’s Riverfest Park, and with it a pedestrian streetscape that treats the river as a focal point of development – and does so at a scale and in a spatial form that priorities human interaction and public access.
. The property occupies a half-mile stretch along the north bank of the Buffalo River, just south of Canalside’s Central Wharf. The property stretches from behind the First Niagara Center to the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino. It acts as a wall between the Cobblestone District and the riverfront. Planners increasingly envision the space as a vibrant river walk.
Removing transit infrastructure from the river’s edge will allow for the emergence of a pedestrian thoroughfare from the Erie Basin Marina to Ohio Street’s Riverfest Park, and with it a pedestrian streetscape that treats the river as a focal point of development – and does so at a scale and in a spatial form that priorities human interaction and public access.

Congressman Higgins wants to spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to redevelop a building that the private sector would be eager to adaptively reuse – and would be willing to do so without this massive level of public subsidy.

Instead of an underutilized taxpayer funded train terminal (that would require ongoing subsidy into the future) we should open this property to the private sector.

At the same time, we can improve public access to the riverfront. 

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