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Get your lawsuits ready: Benderson awarded Donovan Building contract

July 20, 2011

It seemed more than inevitable that Benderson Development would win the request for the rights to the Donovan Building. For what it’s worth, no other RFP was submitted in the process. The more important piece of this pie will be what effect the development has on the greater Canalside development. Update: Buffalo News story on Canalside. I will comment on this at a later juncture.

Here are the basics (per Buffalo Rising):

  • Benderson will invest $30 million into the site, plus a $1 million deposit that they will start work by December (thanks Buffalo News)
  • Phillips Lytle will occupy the top four floors of the building
  • There is going to be nearly 12,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space on the ground floor, plus a two-story parking garage
  • All of this will go into a re-skinned version of the building which marks the first private investment into Canalside

THE. FIRST. PRIVATE. INVESTMENT. IN. CANALSIDE. Let that simmer for a moment. The grass huffers who shelled out all that dough to the triangulation and power of 10 seminar are getting their wish. This form of investing falls into the lighter, quicker, cheaper mantra of the anti-big box retailer gang. Well, at least it is following their theory of allowing the development to occur organically.

This is a major step towards having more than a sand box, lawn chairs and the Orchard Park Little League snack shop on the waterfront. Again, it is the first private investment, that is huge. A building which currently does nothing but drag on the skyline, especially entering the city from the west, will be made into an attractive beacon on the outskirts of the neighborhood that is supposed to save the city. If only Carl Paladino will get his act together on the Coffee Rich building, then another major eyesore would be taken care of.

I have seen some people angered by the design of this building. Certainly Tim Teilman will exclaim that it is not historically accurate. Others have said it looks too suburban. I say fooey. It is designed within the parameters of a “period building”. Much like the Naval Museum, this has the appearance of a Canal-era building. Obviously it will have some modern features, but I’m fairly certain that is the route they were taking with this design. Besides, it is a hell of a lot more attractive than the former Donovan Design, or the Buffalo News building across the street. By following with the “period building” design traits, the Canalside neighborhood will have some uniformity. That will be important in 2023 when the district has been completed. Just think of the uproar from the preservationist crowd if something like this was the final choice.

The look and attitude of this building is good, you don’t need it to scream “hey here I am” it needs to be attractive, yet unassuming. Think Rachel Leigh Cook in She’s All That. That is how I see this design, I am happy with what they have come up with. The public square in front is a nice touch which will be much better than the trash strewn parking lot that currently sits there. It will be loads better if one of the faux historically accurate canals borders it.

What everyone needs to bear in mind, I mean everyone – whether you’re a forward thinking big-box fan or an ultra-preservationist – is that this is a tangible piece of the Canalside puzzle. Forget about the office space and the conference center, that doesn’t really matter to me this instant. There is over 10,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space that is a pitching wedge away from the water and HSBC Arena. That is what matters. Hopefully a great restaurant goes in. I don’t want swanky or any fine dining nonsense. Something like Bambino on Franklin would be perfect. Upscale, yet relaxed. It would play off the Canalside vibe nicely. The same goes for the retail space. Personally, I think a pair of restaurants would be a better fit. Put two real food options down there in order to spur some competition, especially in the winter when the Sabres and Bandits crowd are milling the streets on Friday and Saturday nights. If it has to be retail, so be it. I just can’t think of a stand alone store that would fare well in that location. The proposed public market? Perfect. But I just don’t see that as the right choice for a store.

Nevertheless, progress is actually being made here. This is a smart design and a smart way to utilize this building. It will bring life to an important link between the arena/waterfront and the rest of the city. A vacant lot or building would be terrible. Now there will be a visually pleasing building offering things to do. That is what is missing from Canalside right now. THINGS. TO. DO. Sure the chairs and snack shake are great, for a one-time visit. There is no staying power. This type of restaurant/retail can being to build that staying power. Once that is established, there will be more things to do.

This project is over two years away from being finished, but that is OK. What I am hoping for is the Field of Dreams effect. Build it and they will come. Other businesses need to see that Canalside is the place to be. Whether it is Dinosaur BBQ or Abercrombie & Fitch. I don’t care. Once the shovels are in the ground then we will know that the hopes for a true waterfront district will be close to coming true. In the meantime, would it kill Benderson to get their as in gear on the construction? Why wait for the flakes to fly in December when work can begin now. Show us progress and perhaps more businesses will flock to Canalside.

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