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Reflections from the Basement Party: The Sabres and the Webster Block

June 12, 2012

With only a few days remaining until the City of Buffalo awards the winning bid to those who put in an RFP for the Webster Block, it seems as if the Buffalo Sabres are hoping for another off ice victory.

While Ted Black didn’t show his hand during yesterday’s New Media Summit, he certainly indicated that the Sabres do have a vested interest in the development of the area right outside their front door. After briefly discussing Terry Pegula’s $120,000 gift to complete the lawns at Canalside, Black pointed to the organization’s interest in potentially being involved in developing the Webster Block.

There have been plenty of rumors floating around the internet about what the Sabres may be doing down near the arena, but this certainly backs up what had originally been reported by the News and Business First. With the RFP slated to be announced on the 15th, I expect the Sabres will be holding their breath in hopes of having the winning bid.

Personally, I would imagine that Pegula’s donation was done as a first step of the Sabres’ full interest in that part of the neighborhood. I would imagine that the Sabres have to be the front runner for this RFP simply because I would imagine their proposed project would offer the most return for the neighborhood and city as a whole.

One other thing that was brought up by Black and the Sabres is their involvement in potentially earning the right to host NHL events like the Draft or an All-Star Game. He made a comment that not only pointed to their interest and influence (whether direct or indirect) in the area around the arena.

When addressing the Sabres’ interest in these special events, Black made an indirect reference to some comments made by Emerson Etem and European reporters who made disparaging comments about the city and the lack of activities. Black said that the team and city want to make sure they’re putting their best foot forward and leaving visitors with the best opinion of Buffalo possible. He then said that having a large construction pit right outside the arena would not be ideal, especially if an All-Star Game is on the way.

Based on the conversation with Black, the next possible All-Star Game the Sabres will make a run at will be in 2015, giving three more years for Canalside, the Webster Block and the Donovan Building to be built out and develop. From where I’m sitting Black and Pegula are fully aware of how difficult it is to get anything done by the water and they don’t want the same embarrassment that was suffered during the World Junior Tournament.

While the forum in which Black’s statements were given may not get the most publicity, they should certainly carry a lot of weight to those who make decisions in Buffalo.

The Buffalo Sabres have an ownership group that is ready to make some serious waves in terms of the success and attention given to the franchise. This includes lobbying for future Winter Classics, All-Star Games, Drafts and other special events like the North American Prospects game. The team is fully aware that the area outside the arena looks like a demilitarized zone with seemingly no end in sight, at times. The donation of another functional lawn obviously shows that the Sabres mean to be part of the culture change in and around Canalside. Now those in charge need to take the hint.

The city is about to come into a very special situation in the next few years in that major NHL events (plus the hope of a Stanley Cup Final) will be coming to the area. If those in charge can get their head on straight (and pants hiked up), the entertainment options for those coming to the city will be plentiful.

Looking around at just about any city with a major indoor sports venue will reflect a surrounding neighborhood with year-round entertainment options. Buffalo currently lacks that but has the opportunity to change that with the Webster Block and Canalside. The Sabres are prepared to take the next step, are the others who are trying to shape the area willing to do so as well?

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