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Changes in Cobblestone indicate need for progress

August 3, 2012

No matter how many pretty drawings have been rolled out, nothing can duplicate the real action taking place around First Niagara Center.

There is actual construction taking place at Canalside, as the faux replica canals are being built on the Aud site. The Donovan Building has been stripped and is well on the way towards completion in 2013 and, across the street, there are a pair of bids on the Webster Block that are set to be decided upon.

The Cobblestone District also made some news today as it was announced that a brand new comedy club will be opening on Mississippi. Helium Comedy will be opening in the space that was formerly occupied by Benchwarmers and Morrissey’s.

Getting a new, unique spot down in that area is a great addition to that entire area. However, the loss of Benchwarmers and Morrisey’s will not be conducive to the overall district, particularly when hockey season begins.

This is something that was pointed out by Eric at 3rd Man In earlier when I was still soaking in the news of a new comedy club getting plopped down in a neighborhood desperate for additional attractions.

Eric’s tweets indicate the need for construction in Canalside to ramp up to ensure that there are still locations for Sabres fans to patronize both prior to and after games. The Donovan and Webster block projects will each have a restaurant on the ground floor, but the soonest a restaurant will be in either of those buildings is late 2013.

Unfortunately, that appears to be the only time that anything new would be in place anyway. Whether in the new casino, in the Cobblestone District or Canalside; there would be no shot than any project would be capable of contributing for the 2012-13 calendar year.

At some point there will need to be some sort of progress made here. There is a dire need for more activities, bars and restaurants down near FNC. However, there needs to be a way to get people down there. The Sabres games bring at least 20,000 people – if not more – down to the neighborhood 41 times a year. IN fact, the arena itself is good for anywhere north of 50-75 events a year that will attract a packed house down to the arena district. However, there remains nothing more than parking lots and grass in the area immediately around FNC.

Now, that will change soon with the Webster and Donovan projects. But that is a long way off. For now, people are left with two choices; head around the block to Mississippi, or uptown towards Pearl Street and other eateries. From an outside perspective, that had to play a major role in the ultimate death of these two restaurants.

This is a chicken and the egg situation. People aren’t coming to Cobblestone or the arena district because there isn’t anything to do (save for Sabres games). However, there isn’t anything to do because there is no faith that people will actually come down.

Well, the people are starting to come. For all the placemaking, functional lawns, obstruction and other bullshit that has accompanied the slower, dumber, cheaper Canalside; people are coming. Now it is time for the retail to come in to support this. As of now there is nothing keeping people down there, but I have already written about that and will try to avoid the point.

The key, for me, is injecting some of the population into this neighborhood. Elk Terminal is a hop and a skip from the arena’s doors and there are a few units in 95 Perry. However, there is nothing else for quite a ways. Once permanent residents are thrown in the mix, some real progress can be made.

Now, that will be slightly remedied by those who will be staying in the Donovan and Webster hotels. In fact, the issue could be further resolved should the Paladino proposal win the RFP. The apartments in Paladino’s project would bring the type of permanent resident that I’m talking about to the heart of the arena district.

However, I feel that the Sabres’ Harbor Center proposal is still superior. In fact, the constant traffic created by the rinks will certainly provide a nice influx of people into the neighborhood. The key will be to drive additional residents to this end of the city.

Both Paladino and the Sabres have the opportunity to direct the funds they have allocated to their Webster Block projects should they lose out to the other in a couple weeks. Why not have the Sabres turn to the vast expanse of parking lots bounded by Perry and South Park for a re-scaled rink project? How about Carl invests his cash into the Fairmont Creamery and upgrade it from the really tall, brick billboard holder that is currently is?

Soon enough the Seneca parking lot Casino will be complete, the Donovan will be close to opening, one of the Webster projects will be underway and Helium will be kicking down along Mississippi. However, there will be few more new eateries in the area that fans, patrons and workers will be able to go to.

There is a budding market for a few bars and restaurants to settle in near FNC and rake in the thousands of people rolling through the area on a yearly basis. By the time 2014 rolls around those locations will be mainstays.

Who wants to invest?

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