REVIVAL OF CENTRAL TERMINAL SEEN DEVELOPER ENVISIONS SHOPPING CENTER, APARTMENTS
January 9, 1990
by: KEVIN COLLISON News Staff Reporter
A Buffalo native is planning an $80 million redevelopment project that would convert the historic New York Central Terminal into a major shopping center, tourist attraction and residential development.
New Orleans developer Bernie Tuchman said Monday that he wants to come home to revive the dormant East Side landmark into a development of national importance.
"It's exciting," Tuchman said. "We're going to create a new city there. It's also going to be a tourist attraction. People will come from all over the country to see it."
The developer said he has been discussing the project with Mayor Griffin and other city officials since 1987.
Tuchman, who left Buffalo in 1968 after selling a chain of sporting -goods stores, said he and his uncle, Sam Tuchman, have been working on the project for more than two years. He said he is confident the redevelopment will be successful.
"The financing has been the least of our problems," he said. "I've had a call from a major developer who wants to get involved and we have at least five options to do the development."
He declined to list names, however.
The Tuchmans' plan calls for converting the first three levels of the six-story terminal building, including its spacious concourse with its trademark bronze buffalo statue, into a 600,000- to 800,000-square-foot shopping center.
The shopping center would include a nine-screen movie theater. It would be similar in size to the 710,000-square-foot Boulevard Mall. The entire project would be decorated as much as possible with the original Art Deco furnishings.
The retailing area would extend beneath the 600-foot plaza, which runs along the north side of the terminal's main level. Tuchman said he plans to enclose the plaza itself to create a greenhouse that would include a public area and food court.
His plan calls for converting the five-story former baggage building that extends from the southwest corner of the terminal into an apartment and office building.
"It would be a place where a young white-collar worker could afford to live rather than being forced into the suburbs," Tuchman said.
The future of the 103,000-square-foot, 20-story tower at the northwest corner of the terminal is uncertain. Tuchman said it may be eventually used for offices or possibly a hotel.
The project would call for closing a part of Curtiss Street, which runs under the plaza, and a section of Paderewski Drive.
Tuchman said he doesn't know yet whether the project would require governmental assistance. The 16.5-acre development site already is properly zoned for such uses, but an environmental study would be required by the state, according to city planners.
The project also would be required to follow guidelines for historic redevelopment. The terminal, which was built in 1929, is a federal and local landmark, planners said.
The mayor was unavailable to comment.
Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk, whose district includes the building, praised the proposal. He said the redevelopment of the Central Terminal would be the greatest news for his area in recent history .
"If this is true, it would be a dream come true," Franczyk said. "It's the biggest thing to happen to the East Side in 30 years."
Tuchman said he has hired one of the nation's premier architectural firms, Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates of New York City, to preserve the building's historic nature while making it into a commercial showcase.
"The building would be brought back to its original shape," he said. "The next thing to do is put an advertisement out asking that all people who have bought memorabilia to let us know so we can try to buy it back."
The terminal was opened at the height of Buffalo's railroading importance, according to documents prepared for its National Historic Register application. Its rich furnishings included marble floors and walls, oak seats and mahogany doors.
The 64-foot-high, 225-foot-long main concourse was illuminated by large, round-arch windows. Art Deco, the style popular at the time, was used to decorate the bronze ticket windows, iron grills and lighting fixtures.
Located more than two miles from downtown just off Broadway, the terminal octagonal tower has dominated the neighborhoods around it for decades. The terminal reached its peak use during World War II.
With the decline of passenger trains, the terminal complex became less commercially successful. New York Central made its first attempt to sell it in 1955.
The building is now owned by Thomas Telesco, who purchased it at a city tax auction in 1986 for $100,000.
Telesco confirmed that Tuchman has an option to buy the property for a "low seven-figure deal."
Tuchman is not the first person with plans for the old railroad terminal.
The year after he purchased the property, Telesco had hopes of turning the terminal into a Wedding Mall -- with bridal and tuxedo shops, a florist shop, a limousine service, bakery, photography studio and other retail stores to serve a couple's wedding needs. The project never got off the ground.
He had also at one time considered turning it into a huge flea market. In April 1987 , Telesco held a Dyngus Day party that drew about 2,000 people to dance the polka and munch on Polish sausage in the main concourse.
Before Telesco purchased the Central Terminal, it was owned for seven years by Anthony Fedele, president of Central Terminal Plaza Inc. In late 1980, Fedele had urged that the terminal be used as a site for neighborhood shops.
Tuchman said he hopes to have the purchase completed within nine months but wants to get started on renovation before that.
"We have a possible tenant who wants to be in in six months," he said. "Construction could start by March. "
Tuchman and his family owned the former Dick Fischer Athletic Goods chain of stores for 45 years. He left the city in 1968, going to Boston first and then on to New Orleans, where he has become involved in developing retail stores around the United States.
Tuchman said he isn't bothered by the distance between the terminal and downtown Buffalo, a situation that has worried some possible developers. He said the building actually is central.
"It's 15 minutes from everybody -- Hamburg, Amherst or downtown Buffalo -- and all the travel is wide open," he said. "The city also is anxious to do more to help with transportation."
Tuchman said the possibility of extending a Metro Rail spur from downtown to the terminal has been discussed. He also said he would like to work to persuade Amtrak to relocate its downtown passenger station there.
"When I first came to Buffalo, people thought I was crazy trying to develop this terminal," he said. "Now, it's a whole new pitch. Buffalonians are the worst about their own city. They'll tell you a million reasons why something won't work."
Franczyk said he's glad Buffalo has two "guardian angels" like Tuchman and his uncle.
"They're remembering Buffalo, and I'll totally back them if they plan to spend some money and come back to their old home town."
News Staff Reporter Carolyn Raeke contributed to this story.
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