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A look at St. Paul’s Union Depot | Buffalo Rising

A look at St. Paul’s Union Depot

If you’ve been looking at the Central Terminal, hoping that one day the building will once again be fully operational, then there are other cities to look to for guidance. Cities such as St. Paul where work was recently completed on a $243 million project that has brought a building complex similar to the Central Terminal back to life. Saint Paul’s Union Hub is open once again and will soon be functioning as a multi-purpose transit hub, after being neglected and downtrodden for two generations. Once more, the Union Hub is gearing up to service taxis, light rail, buses, bicycles and passenger trains. 

While the location of the Union Depot is situated in closer proximity to downtown than the Central Terminal, there are still many lessons to be learned when examining an operational roadmap to recovery. With the success of the Union Depot, and other historic transportation depot initiatives, we can continue to develop blueprints that will help to lead us to similar accomplishments.
In the meantime, keep the events and the festivals going, and the small wins coming. 
Lead photo and following from an article in the Star Tribune:
The project was funded mostly by Ramsey County and the federal government, with some state help. With the strong backing of former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, a House leader on transportation issues, and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum of St. Paul, Union Depot received $124.3 million in transit and stimulus funds.

The state kicked in $13.7 million in bonding. The county rail authority is covering the balance, which officials expect to come in at less than $105 million.

Restoration and construction work, which took two years and was finished in October, cost $148 million. The project created an estimated 4,400 jobs, including more than 2,200 on site.

The remaining $95 million went for acquisition, environmental work, railroad work and site improvements.

The whole of the 35-acre site is owned by the county railroad authority, save for 39 condos in the head house.
*Hat tip to Lorne Opler

About the author  ⁄ queenseyes

Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Catalyst behind the Pierce-Arrow Film Arts Center. Throws The Witches Ball at The Hotel @ The Lafayette. Themed New Years mayhem at various locations. Next up: Porchfest... Also offers package tours of the city for groups or individuals. Contact Newell Nussbaumer | Newell@BuffaloRising.com

46 comments
whatever
whatever

I had also vaguely thought there were a few portions somewhere in NYS of above 79 as you said, but that 2012 briefing from DOT which I linked refers to it being max now in their 'base alternative' (status quo) of whole 463 miles.

One slide does say 79 is max for west corridor (could mean west of Albany?), but it doesn't mention any higher max speed that I noticed for east of there.

Seems their wording is misleading, or maybe Hudson portions you mention weren't all finished yet when they wrote it.

Yeah, issue for CT is all about who'd pay for it and what legislatures would approve or not. I've never heard Cuomo or Poloncarz even suggest they'd advocate spending of major $ from state or county govts for an Amtrak@CT project, but who knows - maybe someday they could decide they want to, or their successors eventually could.

JSmith
JSmith

Sorry, BR double posted my other comment rather than the one I intended to reply to yours with. It went something like this:

"There are already sections of the Empire Corridor where the speed limit is higher than 79 mph. From Albany to NYC, along the Hudson River, most of the line allows trains to run at 90 mph, and between Albany and, I think, Amsterdam, the speed limit is 110 mph."

To comment on your other reply:

I am pretty sure Amtrak has simply said: if you get the building into shape, we will be happy to be a tenant and run passenger trains there.

Little Utica, NY (half the ridership of Depew) has a magnificently restored Union Station as their Amtrak station. It is smaller than Buffalo Central Terminal, of course, but of the same nature. I'm not familiar with how its restoration was (and continues to be) funded. It is owned by Oneida County, so I suppose it is run by the county government as an important piece of public infrastructure (like our airport, bus terminal, etc.).

whatever
whatever

js - aren't those totally separate issues - the possibility of statewide speed upgrades which No_Illusions asked about, and possibility of Amtrak again using the CT as you mentioned?

Either could happen, or both, or neither.

My guesses would be some speed upgrades eventually within a few decades - like some mix of the options for 90mph max, maybe with some parts having 110mph max - but probably no reuse of CT for Amtrak.

About Amtrak being on record as you said, I'd wonder (not asking you to answer - just wondering) did it promise to give major funding for the CT from the Amtrak budget to help make it possible, or did it just say it would start using it again if somebody else (NYS govt for example) ever funds the CT for that?

Hypothetically, if it wouldn't cost Amtrak much extra $ out of its own budget, then, sure - why wouldn't it agree to use a reopened CT?

I've never even heard of Cuomo mentioning giving NYS money for rehabing the CT as a rail station or ongoing $ to operate it, so a question is where would that $ come from realistically?

I've no idea if the Cuomo admin thinks CT as a train station is best possible use of state $ when they're already funding so many projects in Buffalo, and while the Depew station seems good enough.

There's only a pretty small # of Amtrak customers here, about 350/day at Depew + 100/day at Exchange.

Congress funding a CT rehab with federal $ sounds to me even more far fetched than Albany doing so, and I doubt Albany funding is likely either.

Nobody can know for sure - maybe funding might show up from somewhere unexpectedly even if I don't think it likely or smart. We'll see.

EAHS 1972
EAHS 1972

Perhaps M-Rogers of the Central Terminal Restoration group could answer this question?

longgone
longgone

The rail station is a transportation project. It's not a development project.

Only considerations to location should be what provides the best transportation options for the region. The region includes more than Buffalo by the way. The region means access to the Thruway network.

Any considerations for block building or neighborhood support should be thrown out thw window. The rail station would belong all of the people...not just BRO readers.

JSmith
JSmith

I have heard it repeatedly stated by the Central Terminal Restoration folks that Amtrak is on record as being happy to return service to the Central Terminal once the building is restored.

JSmith
JSmith

I have heard it repeatedly stated by the Central Terminal Restoration folks that Amtrak is on record as being happy to return service to the Central Terminal once the building is restored.

LouisTully
LouisTully

A stadium in the east side sort of sounds like the same kind of urban renewal project as the Pedestrian Mall Main Street or the Main Place Mall.

Rand503
Rand503

You mean the Beltline railway that we used to have?

paulsobo
paulsobo

One building wound up turning around the Larkin District. In fact, 1 building created the Larkin District.

There is no reason why the Central Terminal cannot do the same.

We see the success of colocating Health Sciences companies at the Life Sciences Campus. There is no reason why the Central Terminal cannot be a similar place for those involved with international trade, customs, import/export, transportation, distribution, warehouse, supply chain and logistics cannot colocate.

Thanks to the Center for Life Sciences we are seeing downtown grow EAST again. We are seeing development on Elm and Oak and Gennesee. Now if we can see growth on Jefferson and Broadway and Fillmore then we will have stabilized the eastside.

We really need to find a way to not just focus on 1 area. The Larkin is a perfect example of an engine of growth that is providing stability for its surrounding area.

If the bad areas of Buffalo remain without opportunity because we are focusing solely on Larkin, Elmwood, downtown and canalise then the poverty and the anti-social crime that follows it will constantly cross the streets and bring low the improving areas we are pouring money.

What you think that if you ignore the poor then they will never leave their homes...they will stay in a self imposed prison within a 1 block radius of where they live. Thats being niaive.

Crisa
Crisa

Ok then. Think of it this way: Patience oh ye of little patience...

whatever
whatever

I think Rand is correct that work done or funded to date doesn't raise the max speed of 79 mph.

For longer term, to answer what No_Illusions asked...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_high-speed_rail#Projects

"... As of March 2012, the Tier 1 EIS had eliminated the high speed rail alternatives with tops speeds of 160 mph (257 km/h) and 220 mph (354 km/h) due to the high costs.

The only 4 build alternatives under current consideration are for higher speed rail with top speeds of of 90 mph (145 km/h) (options A and B), 110 mph (177 km/h), and 125 mph (201 km/h). ..."

Many details and charts shown in

https://www.dot.ny.gov/content/delivery/Main-Projects/S93751-Home/S93751--Repository/ECHSR_Online_Briefing_March_2012.pdf

That DOT presentation says current 79 mph max speed has average of 52 mph, resulting in a 9 hour trip between here and NYC.

Four options still being considered (upgrade estimate $, max/average mph, trip time)

$1.7 billion, 90 / 57 mph, 8:05 hours

$5.8 billion, 90 / 61 mph, 7:36 hours

$6.2 billion, 110 / 63 mph, 7:22 hours

$15.6 billion, 125 / 75 mph, 6:15 hours

I'd guess the 125/75 option at $15.6B will eventually also be dropped due to cost, then one of the other 3 options will eventually happen at some point over the next few decades - probably mostly 90 mph max, maybe with a few portions of 110 max in some places.

EAHS 1972
EAHS 1972

The Hamlin Park neighborhood could be partially stablized by vacating Eastwood Place, Glendale, one side of Hiughes and Long streets between Canisius, Main Street and the Humboldt Parkway and sell it to CC for university expansion.

The residents of the 80-odd houses (fairly compensated, of course, and I bet many are rentals anyways) could find comparable housing in the adjacent neighborhoods, CC would get some much needed real estate and 80 or so homes could be renovated/owner occupied.

Looking on Google at the Central Terminal, I see no space for a new stadium, unless you want to raze several city blocks. Putting the stadium to the south, literally on the other side of the tracks, makes absolutely no sense.

paulsobo
paulsobo

I disagree with putting a rail station downtown. I personally think its not the path forward particularly for High Speed Rail.

Lets remember the real reason for the location of the Central Terminal on the eastside (besides the belief that downtown would grow that big)....it was because the amount of rail traffic required a Rail Station and not a Rail Terminal.

All trains located downtown would enter the Terminal and then back out. A time consuming, inefficient, disruptive process.

The Larkin District is about 1 mile away. The airport and Galleria are not that far off either. We are not talking huge distances. Plus the Larkin District is growing.

Its worth restating that it is unwise to keep pumping money only into those areas already seen as worthy of gentrification. It creates enormous pressure to demolish and it does nothing to stop the troubled areas from spilling over and holding our good areas back.

We need to work to spread out the growth beyond Chippewa, beyong Elmwood, beyond Hertel, beyond those few area...which are in constant jeopardy from troubled areas...and put the effort to stabilize those troubled areas.

-Larkin, Masten, Hamlin, Humboldt, Central Terminal are all capable of renaissance and gentrification. Jobs are close by downtown and at the Life Sciences Campus...Airport is growing and so is the galleria.

Infact, the airport doesnt have the parking and needs light rail.

Come on Buffalo...get it right...stop thinking backwards

longgone
longgone

Understood. But until you provide a plan it's really not fair for supporters of the CT to question those who lack faith in the effort.

Rand503
Rand503

It's a bit of a chicken and egg problem. However, you have to start somewhere. No one can peer into the future to determine which is the quikest and easiest way to revitalize the neighborhood and the CT. I suggest we work on both and see which comes along first.

M-Rodgers
M-Rodgers

As I originally wrote - "Be watching for more information as we work to create the plans and partnerships for the future of the Terminal and the Broadway-Fillmore district."

Understandably, we need to have things in line before presentation - but we're very close to announce.

Old First Ward
Old First Ward

To Paulsobo, we had 4 major railroad terminals starting with the grand New York Central Exchange Street Station. Ironically, the demise of that station and surrounding businesses is directly related to the opening of the Central Terminal. The Exchange Street Station was demolished in 1935.

http://wnyheritagepress.org/photos_week_2004/mcleods_hotel/central_right.jpg

http://wnyheritagepress.org/photos_week_2004/mcleods_hotel/central_left.jpg

http://wnyheritagepress.org/photos_week_2004/mcleods_hotel/exchange_st.jpg

Brilliant photos from the collection of the WNY Heritage Press

longgone
longgone

Not sure I agree with this.

By design, there is no population density along the 190 and 290. In order for rail to work it needs to be near people. Just look at the awesome job the medical campus is doing in integrating a metro stop into the complex. That's how it should be done IMHO.

If parking was ever removed from Elmwood, could cars and light rail share the road?

Cut over to the river through Buffalo State and come down the existing tracks to CanalSide.

Oh - Look what we have here... A complete loop that hooks in 2 parks (Delaware & LaSalle), museums, and Buffalo State..right through the most populus and prosperus sections of the city. 12,000 students get access to Downtown and tourists Downtown get access to the gems near Buffalo State.

Even better is the acres upon acres of land that's undeveloped or underdeveloped that's within walking distance of said loop.

longgone
longgone

Faith, or lack thereof, is arrived at in the absence of understanding. Maybe if there were ideas out there people would not be challenged on faith for the future of the CT?

longgone
longgone

The challenge with the idea that Amtrak would service the CT if the CT was ready is the fact that it would take hundreds of millions to make the CT ready. After spending this money you're still left with a restored building in one of the worst sections of the city.

Long term, the region needs HS rail and commuter rail to the airport. That said, the end point for both need to be Downtown and not on the East Side. If and when those things come, the region needs to be able to build off them. Building off a station downtown is much, much, much easier to start capturing a return that building off a station on the east side.

For me, it makes zero sense to plan a HS rail project where someone would leave NYC for Buffalo only to havr to get off the train and take a commuter rail the remaing 3 miles. Even worse would be for someone coming from Toronto to pass through the city, which would be the destination, to the East Side only to back track back to the city center.

longgone
longgone

The only reason why some feel like the efforts of others are being #$%$ on is because the folks behind the CT will not let go of the idea that the CT should be the transportation hub for the region.

As I mentioned before, there is a second act for the CT. It's just not as a transportation hub. It's in the wrong part of the city on many levels.

The move to try and secure restoration funds on the back of a transportation project is where most logical folks have their concerns. The CT was already put in the wrong location once. To make the mistake a second time would be detremential to the future of the city. That is why most are opposed to the idea.

ns
ns

Or it could be a bigger Subway Ring starting in downtown amtrak station along I-190 North to I-290 and go back to I-190 south again to create a complete subway circle to include Buffalo suburbs.

M-Rodgers
M-Rodgers

Ah, but there are plans in the works for the Buffalo Central Terminal working hand-in-hand with the surrounding neighborhood. As a poster stated above, "ye of little faith." Be watching for more information as we work to create the plans and partnerships for the future of the Terminal and the Broadway-Fillmore district.

ns
ns

Take a look at Moscow subway map. Buffalo should have a similar subway circle around the entire city so people could change directions where they want to go by moving along the subway circle, switch trains and go to another direction they choose to. One of the stops on this circle could be Central Terminal/ new Bills Stadium station. By looking at Scajaquada 198 and 33 it almost looks like a circle around the city. Put a subway circle around that area either underground or above the ground.

http://see-you-in-moscow.com/blog/moscow_metro_map/2010-01-27-34

ns
ns

Clean up the area and put new Bills stadium right next to CT.

ns
ns

The only way to reuse Central Terminal is to revitalize the area around it. It has to be a big investment in that area around CT such as: clean up the area and put new Bills stadium with retractable roof right next to it for year round event purposes. There are more parking spots in potential there than in outer harbor. That way it would make perfect sence for CT to serve as the new Transportation hub with new business offices in that tower. Than you will see more retail, hotels and restaurants will be opening around the new stadium and Central Terminal. Extend light rail to CT from south, north and east of the metro area. The main point is, it has to be some big and major ivestment in the immediate area surroended CT for it to ever come back to life and succed! Also that would attract more people to Broadway Market and will help to revitalize Polonia District.

paulsobo
paulsobo

Amtrak has said that they would begin servicing trains to the Central Terminal the next day if the Central Terminal was in condition to receive them and they were asked to do so.

The St. Louis Terminal is far more grand and lovely evoking either our LeHigh or DL&W Stations downtown. Remember that Buffalo had 3 and the Central Terminal is the only remaining. Had it been downtown, then it would have been demolished as well.

Honestly, what were they thinking demolishing so many buildings from our golden age?

Long term, Buffalo needs the Light Rail to the Larkin, Galleria & Airport then the Central Terminal makes sense. If not then I dont think that it does.

If that happens then the Bus Terminal should be relocated to the Central Terminal...and free up that space for the benefit of downtown like ECC or a business.

Soccerdude5719
Soccerdude5719

Yeah let's tear it down. It'd impeding the groups that want to develop there. oh wait....

The various levels of government aren't throwing tax payer money at so what have any of you to complain about. I'll take it slowly coming back then knocking it down and making another large unkempt lot.

Move Along Plz
Move Along Plz

Saving a glorious building-yes

Turning around a neighborhood in the process-hardly!

Travelrrr
Travelrrr

Great point. Look at the progress of the site that was the Larkin Admin building: parking. What progress.

More to the point, why do you feel the need to #$%$ all over the efforts of people who are saving the glorious building, and turning around a neighborhood in the process?

Michal
Michal

Buffalo's central terminal is a lost cause.It should be torn down and and parts of the structure used to make site into something lthat can be used NOW.Check out what was done at the Larkin complex.

Quixote
Quixote

I would posit that a for a (relatively) small investment the Amtrak station can be reconstructed a few hundred yards down the track near Main Street and the Donovan building. It could then link to the Canalside metro station and serve as a multi modal hub. If Amtrak was to be located at the Central Terminal you would need exponentially more millions of dollars just to make it ready for reuse.

It does seem like St. Paul Union Station better as a paradigm for the adaptive reuse former DL&W terminal than it does for model for the restoration of Central Terminal. Bigger bang for the buck at the DL&W too.

Rand503
Rand503

AGreed. That terminal would have been an amazing space for use today. Same with the old DLW terminal.

It's actually too bad that Lehigh and DLW didn't build a "Union Station" By pooling their resources, they could have build something really grand -- or something even grander than what they did build. Had they done so, it might have swayed our city fathers to construct the Central Terminal there or nearby, and it would have had a real use for downtown today.

A truly missed opportunity. But I don't blame them, actually. In the 1920s, Buffalo was growing so fast that people assume downtown would expand all the way to where the Central Terminal is now, so they were planning for future growth of the city. Sad that it didn't work out that way.

Rand503
Rand503

The high speed corridor was a small amount of funds allocated to allow trains to move faster than they do now, up to 80 mph. That is by no stretch of the imagination "high speed", which is usually defined as 150 mph or faster.

Crisa
Crisa

The Central Terminal is perfectly located with future routes already laid out along rail lines, especially the one headed toward the Int'l airport.

Patience oh you of little faith! lol

No_Illusions
No_Illusions

Hasn't Amtrak repeated come out in saying that they will not support of returning rail traffic back to the Central Terminal?

That alone kills the Central Terminal as a transportation hub for Buffalo...unless we are willing to pony up the money to convince them otherwise. It might not be a bad thing either. Upon complete restoration, the Central Terminal will be the premier event space of Buffalo anyways.

Does anyone have any news about the Empire High Speed Rail Corridor? I heard some funds were allocated, but that was a few years ago now.

ladyinwhite
ladyinwhite

Well said. Why would BRO not say it is Downtown? Sugar coating works no more in ths day and age of Google. CT will never be anything more than what it has become, a historic event venue for beer.

longgone
longgone

Thanks for getting it. Agree that the days of rail at the CT are over but the CT itself has another act to play out. Just not sure what yet.

JimB
JimB

Well put, longgone. The best site for a transportation hub is downtown. A good start would be a replacement for the Exchange Street station downtown. While I love the Central Terminal, its days as a rail hub are over.

longgone
longgone

Content like this --- "While the location of the Union Depot is situated in closer proximity to downtown than the Central Terminal, there are still many lessons to be learned when examining an operational roadmap to recovery." --- makes me question everything.

The Union Depot in St. Paul is right in downtown. A comparison to Buffalo would be having the Central Terminal be on the site of the HSBC Atrium.

With this being the case, there is nothing that can be learned from this project. The CT is in the worst section of the city...both for a transportation hub and for development potential. Until people accept that and stop trying to make false comparisons no signifiant progress is going to be made at the CT.

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