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Buffalo Pipe Dream: Pucks and Conventions

November 28, 2012

Early in the summer – when the threat of a lockout was evident but not looming – I took the time to throw out a few big picture ideas for Buffalo. These ideas ranged from re-working the Cobblestone District to finding a place for a state-of-the-art aquarium on the Outer Harbor.

Swap out those graphics for ones promoting an OHL contest and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Now that the HARBORcenter project is well underway, the Junior Sabres and Canisius DI teams will have a new home with seating for 2,000 fans. I like to think that my original pipe dream story had something to do with this, but I’m not that naïve.

One piece of common knowledge is the Buffalo’s Convention Center is undersized, dated and incapable of attracting larger events that hit cities like Pittsburgh. The recent waterfront Bills stadium proposal had a new convention center worked into the plans and such a project would be interesting to see. However, I don’t think that a new convention center needs to accompany a Bills stadium project.

Certainly there are plenty of power brokers and decision makers in WNY who are well aware of the glaring need to upgrade the current Convention Center. An updated and modern convention center would help raise the overall profile and perception of the region. Finding a location and project to build a new Convention Center should be high on the priority list of many throughout Buffalo.

Personally, I think the Larkin District would serve as an excellent home such a project. Not only is it close enough to downtown to justify not placing a new convention center in the downtown core, it is a district with a number of growing business interests. There also happens to be far more real estate options in and around Larkin than anywhere downtown.

The size of any new build would need to fall in line with any of the other major venues in the nation. Since Pittsburgh serves as a good barometer in many aspects, a convention center anywhere north of the 350,000 square foot size of the Steel City’s complex would be an adequate size. That much event space would actually triple that of the current, obsolete Convention Center downtown.

As for design, well something modern would be welcome and finding a way to integrate the warehouse look that is ever-present in the Larkin District would make for a striking building. Even better, incorporating design features from the former Frank Lloyd Wright Larkin Administration Building would effectively tie in strings from Buffalo’s past while aiding the city move forward.

There are two reasons I’d like to see the convention center replaced. The obvious reason being the benefit of upgrading the small, landlocked and obsolete center the city currently has. Secondly, I think the current convention center would make a terrific home for a moderately sized hockey venue.

While the HARBORcenter is going to provide a venue that will be capable of housing the Jr. Sabres and Canisius hockey programs, a proper 5,000 seat venue could open the doors for bigger and better things.

First things first, it would cement Buffalo as an ideal host for any future bid for a World Junior Championship, as the downtown core would hold both venues used for the games. In addition, it would open the door for an OHL or even a USHL franchise to call Buffalo home.

A 5,000 seat venue would be more than enough for most OHL teams and would provide an intimate atmosphere to take in a game. While I would assume attendance would be up and down early on, the OHL culture would certainly draw a healthy crowd on a regular basis in Buffalo.

The ability to draw additional World Junior Tournaments is also what makes building such a venue key for the city. Buffalo has the ability to become USA Hockey’s go-to option for World Junior Championships without a second venue in the city limits. The proximity to the Canadian border ensures solid ticket sales despite eliminating home ice advantage. If a brand-new, 5,000-seat arena was placed in the middle of downtown, USA Hockey would be hard pressed to turn away from Buffalo as a host city. Both arenas would be little more than a couple of miles away and each would have the adequate capacity to accommodate the fans at the WJC.

Gutting the current Convention Center and retro-fitting it to hold a rink and seating bowl certainly wouldn’t be a cheap venture. The entire event floor would need to be pulled out and the ground floor would also need to be gutted. Building in the seating bowl and lock facilities would take some time, but I have little doubt that everything would fit well in the current facility.

Despite being miniscule as convention centers go, this building is still quite large. The general size is exactly what this has going for it. Fitting in a sheet of ice along with the necessary support facilities doesn’t seem like a tight squeeze in such a large building. The small cosmetic additions to the main entry would continue serve as a compliment if this were to become an arena.

A single-level bowl is all that would be necessary to accommodate the seating for the arena and locating the main concourse above the seating would be preferable.  Choosing to place the concourse on the ground floor wouldn’t be an issue, but building the seats closer to the ceiling isn’t outweighed by having ground-level entries for each section.

The typical locker facilities (four) along with team offices and training rooms would all be located on the same level. With the concourse above the seating, it would leave the ground floor free to be devoted to the team and locker facilities and there would be no worries about space constraints for the team’s facilities.

While concessions and restroom facilities would occupy the second level concourse, using the large main entry as the lobby for the arena would be a layup. Much like the main entry way and staircase at the Blue Cross Arena, the main entry could open to a lobby with a team store with a stair case leading to the seating bowl.

It would take a perfect storm sequence to allow this type of project to occur. But in that perfect setting, this tandem of projects would be an awesome addition to the fabric of the city on a number of levels.

 

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