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Buffalo Pipe Dream: The Webster Block and the Sabres

May 7, 2012

Part two of my Pipe Dream series will focus on the Webster Block and in what direction this prime piece of realty may go. Read part one on the Central Terminal here.

Just over a year ago it looked as if HSBC would bounce down Main Street to build a sparkling new office building across the street from the glass-faced Atrium. Weeks after that announcement the bank decided to go in the opposite direction, selling off local branches and consolidating a number of operations. That left the parcel of their potential development sitting empty once again.

Currently standing as a parking lot, the Webster Block blends nicely with the green fields and lawn chairs of Canalside, plus the Cobblestone Parking District that sit nearby. However, it seems as if Bryon Brown wants to fast track development on this prime piece of real estate.

Based on what I’ve read, the possibility for a multi-use facility run by the Buffalo Sabres is pretty exciting. I previously worked up an idea on a practice facility for the Sabres to be built in the Cobblestone District. With the alleged interest in the Webster Block, I’ll tweak my original plan to fit. My recent thoughts on this project go beyond just an arena capable of housing a junior team. I think a proper mixed-use development would serve the Sabres and city well.

Like George Costanza, I like to pretend I’m an architect but have no real skills in the field. So this may come off as completely backwards. Ideally, the arena would occupy the lower floors of the structure – possibly being built a story or two underground if necessary. The shops and restaurants would be on the second level, with access from ground floor entries and a skybridge with First Niagara Center. I’d also have a modest tower built on the corner of the lot fronting Scott St., nearest to the Donovan Building.

I’d love to see a modern build that provides panoramic views of the city and waterfront while complimenting the architecture of the Donovan renovation and the HSBC Atrium. Depending on the architecture, I suppose it could be necessary to have the ice arena placed above the retail and restaurants. If that is the case, you could simply switch the positioning. It just seems cooler to give a higher perspective of the waterfront to those shopping or eating here.

The arena, for me, is the easy choice. It provides a space for the Sabres to practice in when the arena is occupied by other acts, while easing the burden on the FNC ice. It also provides a valuable sheet of ice for youth and senior leagues along with a legitimate home for the Junior Sabres. The potential for Canisius to use this venue as a permanent home would also be an option. Using a capacity of 5,000 would make the arena an adequate home for NCAA games and even open the door for a major junior program down the line.

Despite the rink acting as the keystone of this project, the retail and restaurants would be the bread and butter. I think that three main tenants would be all that is necessary for this project. Putting in a similar – if not identical – set up to Real Sports in Toronto would be a terrific start. A massive sports bar (let’s call it Hockey Heaven), paired with a related retail outlet, could serve those with or without tickets on game or event nights, while also being available to those hanging out in the city and around Canalside. The store would be Buffalo sports-centric and act as a compliment to the bar/restaurant’s pull. The set up for Real Sports and the Real Sports retail shop is just about perfect in my opinion, the city, neighborhood and developer couldn’t go wrong by mimicking it.

I think putting a second major anchor into this space would make a lot more sense than having a food-court style set of restaurants. The proposed public market at Canalside ideally will be similar to Quincy Market in that regard, you won’t need to have two large food court marketplaces. While additional retail and restaurant space would be great, why not go big with something like Lucky Strike Lanes? Lucky Strike is a proven success that would serve the area year-round. This would be especially useful for attracting people on non-event nights to keep the Canalside and Cobblestone neighborhoods populated all year. After all, that is the ultimate goal here.

I look at cities like Glendale and Columbus which acted quickly and provided arena patrons beautiful mixed use areas directly across from their arenas, building a successful district in no time. Rather than leave the arena to sit by itself, allow it to work with the neighborhood and those coming down on a near nightly basis from October until April (or hopefully June).

The additional mixed use development will surely come along at a separate pace than the rest of the building. Perhaps more eateries and less shopping is the key. Maybe an even balance will be struck. But, in my opinion, providing a great bar/restaurant for those coming to, or watching, a game is step number one. Utilizing a great piece of weatherproof entertainment like Luck Strike would be a terrific step number two, or 1A.

The last piece is slightly ambitious. But it wouldn’t be a proper pipe dream without it. A modest tower on one corner of the building would add density to the neighborhood and skyline while providing upscale living or office space in a bustling area of development. Even if the tower housed a hotel, this would inject an additional population capable of using the building’s amenities on a daily basis.

There is no need to make this a 15-story tower. I’m talking five or six stories total. It would probably bring the overall height to eight or nine stories, making for a solid addition to the neighborhood’s skyline. The right tenant could be anything from residential to a hotel, depending on what would fit best. Whichever mix that is chosen won’t matter, so long as it makes filling the space easier.

My thought process is for the Sabres to take the lead in developing what will end up being an anchor attraction for the neighborhood around First Niagara Center. They would probably need to find someone to jump in with them if the office/residential portion of this project were to get off the ground. But they should have no trouble building an arena with bars, restaurants and retail to go along with it. It is exactly the type of project that could bring a wide range of people down near the arena and Canalside.

Here is the rundown:

  • 5,000 seat multi-use arena to house Sabres practices, Buffalo Jr. Sabres and potentially Canisius College hockey.
  • Second-level retail and restaurants with skybridge connection to First Niagara Center concourse.
  • Anchor tenant fronting FNC featuring a bar/restaurant similar to Real Sports with additional retail outlet selling apparel for Sabres, Bills, Bandits etc.
  • Lucky Strike Lanes to compliment Real Sports and to provide a secondary entertainment outlet for when FNC or in-complex rink isn’t being used. Would provide year-round entertainment near Canalside.
  • Four to six-story tower on corner nearest Donovan lot. To be mixed use with potential for a hotel, office or residential space.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2012 8:24 pm

    This has become already evident as an expansion to the Blue Cross Centre was completed in 2006 and a new Marriott Residence Inn opened in 2008. The new regional law courts on Assumption Blvd opened in 2011. Momentum is also building for a new downtown 9-10,000 seat multipurpose events centre and arena. On the Riverview side, the Gunningsville Bridge now connects to a new ring road around the town and is expected to serve as a catalyst for development in east Riverview .

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  1. UPDATED: Sabres a player for Webster Block « Two in the Box

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