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Despite obstructionist claims, HARBORcenter will be an asset

February 12, 2013

You simply cannot have nice things if you live in Buffalo. I’ve only been around for 27 years and my interest in downtown development is far shorter than that. But I’ve seen enough to know that we simply cannot have nice things.

After winning a RFP process that only had two submissions, the Buffalo Sabres are preparing to break ground on a massive new development that will bring a brand-new hotel, twin rink and parking facility to the foot of the city’s new waterfront district alongside the preexisting arena district.

Multiple entrances and attractions certainly add up to a barrier, no?

Apparently this just isn’t historic enough for some people. Maybe Clinton DeWitt tossed a handkerchief out on this site when he wedded the waters or maybe a member of the Cotter family placed their outhouse on the northeast corner of the Webster Block back in 1847. Who knows? All that matters is protecting the historic integrity of the city and obstructing any project that looks, smells or sounds progressive.Tim Tielman’s complaints about the HARBORcenter project aren’t just obnoxious – as is common practice for him – they’re downright maniacal. To say that this dynamic project designed to draw people to the center of Buffalo’s newest entertainment district on a year-round basis is going to cut the city off from the waterfront is asinine. The gall of constructing a multi-level parking structure that can house a vast majority of Thursday at the Harbor fans along with those patronizing the ground floor retail of this building is beyond ignorant. How could the Sabres and city perpetuate such nonsense?

Just imagine what this lot could be if Tielman and his placemaking, crowdsourced gang of nincompoops got their hands on it. We could celebrate with temporary tents, functional lawns and deck chairs as far as the eye could see.

HARBORcenter isn’t just a hockey complex. It is a multifaceted addition to a burgeoning portion of the city. If anything, Tielman is completely contradicting the nature and scope of this very project.

A few years back, when another obstructionist clown put the brakes on a proposed parking facility near Marine Drive, Canalside and the greater arena district lost out on what would have been a valuable resource. Now the Sabres have come to the table with a dressed up version of a parking ramp that will not only service First Niagara Center patrons, but those who are heading down to the water on a warm summer night.

For a district that woefully lacks parking – let alone real things to do – Canalside can only benefit from the draw that this building will create. Between the retail and hotel element alone, this will bring people to the foot of Canalside, at the very least on a daily basis. Should the ECHDC begin to find tenants to fill their empty parcels, they will most definitely benefit from an anchor such as HARBORcenter right nearby.

Looking at the plans, the only miss I can find is that the main sports bar will face Washington St. rather than the harbor. Ideally, having access to the restaurant from Perry and Main would be ideal. This would – as has been pointed out by many – provide a view (obstructed or not) of Canalside while also giving fans a quick trot across the street after arena events. It is a small complaint, but that certainly feels like a miss when you consider the scope of the project.

If it weren’t too late, it would be worthwhile for the Sabres to rethink that portion of the plans. However, providing the primary entrance for all retail locations along the side fronting Canalside isn’t a horrible plan either. Not only does that put the storefronts smack in the face of those visiting Canalside, it is also a slight taunt as to what that particular neighborhood still lacks: restaurants, stores and things to do.

To reiterate the point, this project will not add to the separation of the waterfront it will add to it. This is going to be a year-round draw for people. Whether they’re hockey fans, hockey players, hockey parents, hotel patrons or those looking to grab a bite to eat or do some shopping; these people will be able to begin their trip at HARBORcenter and make their decision to venture to the casino Cobblestone parking District, Canalside or back towards downtown.

Hell, Canisius is more than likely going to become an anchor tenant for the rinks. Playing home games on the Metro Line certainly seems like a great way to bring people to this area as opposed to keeping them away. That would have never happened without HARBORcenter.

This is not an isolated project or barrier like the Skyway. This is a draw. Albeit it is a big-box style attraction that makes preservation junkies quake in their boots. Combine that with the sports element and some of the pitchfork mob that Tielman will be fighting a doubly evil plan (in their opinion).

After a half dozen sets of plans, renderings and dreams for Canalside, we as a community are still waiting for the canal portion to open. Perhaps when my first born takes the reigns for 2ITB he will be parading the virtues of what Canalside has become under the guidance of the ECHDC. Maybe at that time HARBORcenter will be the primary hub of action is what is growing to be a widespread entertainment district.

Of course, that would mean that certain obstructionists need to get their facts straight.

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