Since no lease agreement exists between Amtrak and the city for space in the Whirlpool Street “intermodal transportation center,” there is no guarantee that the money losing transportation agency will move into the $44 million facility at all, much less any sort of agreement as to how much of the 22,000-square-feet of space it will require at the Old Customs House, or how much it will be willing to pay to rent that space.
Since 1978, Amtrak officials have been quite content with the 800 square feet they operate on Willard Avenue near Lockport Road. Peak traffic at the Niagara Falls station averages 30 passengers an hour, an event that occurs no more than four times each day. The smallish waiting room, about the size of a good sized dentist’s office, never lacks for seating, even with the hustle and bustle of 15 people getting on a train as another 15 disembark.
The Rensselaer Rail station - the second busiest station in New York and the 9th busiest in America is an example of, to what extent Niagara Falls may have been overbuilt.
Last year Rensselaer had 781,597 passengers - 20 times the number Niagara Falls had.
Amtrak generated more than $38 million in sales there to Niagara Falls $1.9 million or 20 times as much money.
While the Rensselaer Rail Station building has a total of 67,000 square feet on four floors, including offices for rent, and a post office, the public space for the train station is 27,000 square feet.
Amtrak only leases 17,000 square feet of that.
The 9th busiest train station in the nation is only 20 percent larger than the Niagara Falls International Railway and Intermodal Transportation Center.
For a top 10 station, Amtrak doesn't need a train station as large as Niagara Falls.
When Amtrak first leased Rensselaer from the Capital District Transit Authority in 2002, the rent was $50,000 a year.
The CDTA estimated operations and maintenance costs for their new station at $900,000 a year.
At $50,000 per year, Amtrak offered to pay in rent what was expected to be six percent of overhead cost of running the station.
Niagara Falls should expect the same.
Amtrak will not need more than 4,000 square feet in rent.
Although Mayor Paul Dyster, when asked by Vince Anello on his WJJL radio show about the Amtrak lease, Dyster only said, "it's complicated."
It really isn't.
Amtrak only pays based on the space it needs - and the space it needs is by the book.
Then it pays a proportionate share based on what it thinks is a reasonable overhead.
And here is the dirty little secret: Amtrak is in control of the game.
Suppose a fool, a born fool, built a train station and didn't cut a deal with Amtrak.
And suppose Amtrak didn't like the deal.
Guess who's powerless?
Not Amtrak. Amtrak already has a station and it has the trains, and the tracks.
All the dummy has, who built a station, is a building.
A worthless building - if he doesn’t have Amtrak.
Amtrak will hardly pay anything in Niagara Falls and Amtrak will not care how much love or effort the people who designed it put into it and they won't care how many riders you predict will be there in the future.
Amtrak will base its rent on today and what they need.
That Niagara Falls overbuilt is not their problem and that is why Dyster said it was complicated when it isn't.
You who have just read this know more about Amtrak leases than Dyster did up until a few weeks ago when he found out the plain facts - something he should have done several years back.
The Schenectady Intermodal Station is 4,300 square-feet - one fifth the size of Niagara Falls and accommodates about double (61,803 in 2014) the passengers.
Not only is Niagara Falls unique in building a station far too large for its needs, but of all the cities that ever built or are building, or planning to build a train station or intermodal center, only the Dyster administration claims ignorance of the cost to operate a new station.
Dyster admitted the city will be responsible for maintaining the station once it opens, but because he is not a developer and has no staff competent enough to calculate such things he is sadly alone among all who built a train station in that he does not know what the estimated cost to maintain this train station will be.
The other day he told Vince Anello - and you got to love the way Dyster dodges and weaves- when Vince asked Dyster what the overhead will be - Dyster said "it's a moving target."
Fortunately, there are studies of intermodal stations built in other cities - studies that are as easy to find as a Google search and key words like 'study costs of operations and maintenance Intermodal train station.'
These studies are easy to read and something Mayor Dyster probably doesn't know, but they pin point the costs of overhead and operations - since from one train station to the next - there are standard expenses and costs.
Security, for example is required. Larger stations like the one Niagara Falls will soon have generally require 24 hour, seven days a week, 365 days a year security.
Janitorial and cleaning services that guarantee a first class standard of cleanliness are required.
Window cleaning, escalator maintenance, HVAC maintenance, plumbing & electrical, maintenance and repair for buildings and grounds, utilities - heat, water, electric, supplies, and planning, supervision, and other operational costs.
So what will it cost?
In study after study the numbers are reduced to cost per square foot.
The newly renovated Union Depot Intermodal Transportation Center in St. Paul was estimated to cost $40 per square foot per year.
The Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center was estimated to cost $53.71 per square foot per year.
Based on $40 per square foot, the Niagara Falls Intermodal will cost $885,721 per year.
But since there will be very few people in this station compared to other stations of its size, money can be saved on cleaning and supplies and during the many hours when there is no one in the station, and no train coming, the maintenance person could turn down the heat.
And turn out the lights.
The more people in the station the higher the overhead.
The Niagara Falls station was built to accommodate 2,000 travelers a day and will, based on Amtrak's three daily scheduled trains, likely accommodate not more than 150 per day, and probably less.
There is every chance that with so few people coming and going the city might be able to keep the cost down to as little as $600,000 annually.
The estimates of Amtrak rent based on leases also available online suggest that Amtrak will pay not more than $55,000 in rent.
The difference - as much as $550,000 per year – will be borne by city taxpayers.
"The Niagara Falls Rail Station and Inter-modal Transportation Center is elemental to the redevelopment of Niagara Falls,” said Mayor Dyster. "This facility will play a critical role in the future development of rail transportation."
The Niagara Falls Reporter at this point is not sure we believe that.