Looking back at Columbus from Buffalo’s perspective

I love traveling to other cities for a host of reasons. So often I come away disappointed knowing that Buffalo is missing so much compared to cities around the country but I also enjoy these trips because I often encounter features that could so easily be incorporated in the Nickel City.

My recent trip to Columbus was eye-opening. The Arena District is thriving and it is directly connected to two more walkable, diverse areas of the city (North Market and Short North). Admittedly, Short North is an easier drive from North Market and the Arena District than a walk. But I digress.

The Columbus Arena District is nothing short than the ideal template for developing a work-play district around a sports venue. Amazingly, it is a district that doesn’t rely solely on Nationwide Arena for survival, but uses the home of the Blue Jackets as a key cog in the operation.

Looking down a pedestrian walkway leading away from Nationwide Arena and towards a half dozen bars.
Looking down a pedestrian walkway leading away from Nationwide Arena and towards a half dozen bars.

In additional to Nationwide Arena, the district boasts Huntington Park – the picturesque home of the Columbus Clippers, Lifestyles Pavilion – a mid-sized concert venue and a host of mixed use buildings. Everything within the district is clad in brick and features design constraints consistent with what you might expect to see from an area replicating former warehouses or, perhaps, a historic canal district.

Just beyond the Arena District along Park Street, is the North Market which features a beautiful open market in an old brick warehouse nestled in a neighborhood with plenty of bars with plenty of patio space. The North Market anchors the small neighborhood which is a short 9-iron from the front door of Nationwide Arena. Another four or five blocks puts you smack in the middle of Short North, which is basically the Elmwood Village on steroids.

All of this is just about three miles from the center of Ohio State University and just over a mile from the center of downtown Columbus.

Spending a couple days in 60-degree weather amongst all of these cool, new bars and restaurants certainly gave me a fair bit of remorse for what we have going on in Buffalo these days. Our city is enjoying a resurgence that many citizens likely doubted would ever come. But when I look at Canalside’s Adirondack Chairs and functional lawns compared to the dozen or so mixed-use buildings surrounding Nationwide Arena I realize how far we still have to go.

We’re getting there, we’re just not nearly as close to having a truly thriving district as many of us might think. Continue reading

Time for the next step after the debut of Ice at Canalside

It was almost five years in the making, but the historically aligned canals at Canalside were finally opened last night marking another milestone in Buffalo’s waterfront development.

As was to be expected, the crowd at Canalside was massive and the numbers patronizing the new skating venue will likely continue to swell over the next few weeks. All told, this was a huge victory for Canalside, the Erie Canal Harbor Corporation and Buffalo as a whole. While one night doesn’t make for guaranteed long-term success, I hope that the ECHDC are spurred to get the next piece of development done well ahead of schedule.Canalside

The three parcels that sit on the South Aud Block are shovel ready with plans for Explore & More to take up the largest of the three parcels with a restaurant and information center to occupy the other two, respectively. An RFP was issued for designs last year and now ECHDC is seeking a developer for the site. They even have pretty pictures which may or may not have no bearing on what the chosen developer builds.

Proposals from developers are due by January 9 and the ECHDC RFP notes that first round interviews will be held on or around January 22. So as of now, we’re well over a month away from identifying the developer for this site. The good news is that Explore & More has always been operating on a 2016 transition to the Canalside site, something noted in the ECHDC RFP documents. Putting two and two together tells me that once a developer is chosen, it shouldn’t be long before we see concrete being poured and structural steel rising; so long as ECHDC learned their lesson with the canals. Continue reading

Pipe Dream: Taking the opportunity to upgrade First Niagara Center’s exterior

The fanfare surrounding HARBORCENTER isn’t going to die down soon. Nor should it. This is a phenomenal project that will inject all sorts of money and life into downtown Buffalo. It has the added flair of pissing off Tim Tielman and leaving him pouting in his open air bus, clutching to his construction paper and crayon “alternative”.

Just take a minute to look at that thing and tell me it’s not the most ludicrous thing you’ve ever seen. I can’t tell what’s more hysterical, the fishing huts along Main or the rink on a portion of the DL&W Terminal that isn’t currently a platform suitable for a rink.

Make this a statement, not an afterthought.

Anyway, HARBORCENTER is going to be a boon for downtown, the waterfront, Canalside and the arena district as a whole. It has raised some concern over the First Niagara signage on the arena being obstructed and it has also obstructed a vast majority of First Niagara Center’s atrium. The former point probably isn’t all that important. Nor will it be all that difficult to address. The latter, however, should be addressed in some form or function.

I’ve mentioned before that it would be beneficial to re-skin the atrium as a way to improve the visual connection between HARBORCENTER and the arena. The drop off in height and the drastic difference in architecture makes the adjoining buildings look odd, especially from Main Street. So the idea of a visual upgrade makes sense to me.

However, in between portions of our most recent podcast, Eric (of 3rd Man In) and I got to talking about a few aspects of the arena and how the Sabres may be able to improve on the exterior of the building. Continue reading

Buffalo can take a page from Cleveland’s book on a waterfront project

You may have heard that Cleveland has been on a bit of a run lately. Similar to Buffalo, Cleveland has been working to reinvigorate their downtown core and much of their work is paying off as the 2016 Republican National Convention will descend upon the burning river. lakefrontpedestriandrawbridge_01

Much of what’s happening in Cleveland, however, is working to shake the opinion that it’s a rust laden burg with little to offer. In fact, the city planning in Cleveland over the past 30 or 40 years wasn’t nearly as bad as Buffalo’s which has given our Ohio cousins a bit of a headstart when it comes to revitalization. Cleveland is on the brink of adding countless new projects to their books that probably would labor in public hearings and subcommittees in Western New York for months (if not years) before dying on the vine or being drastically scaled back before construction.

For example, Cleveland will soon be home to a gleaming 28-story Hilton hotel tower that will connect with their convention center as an anchor for major national and international conventions. Buffalo’s bunker of a convention center is so far obsolete that any such hotel project would be a non-starter, but I can hear the cries from Donn Esmonde and his cronies about the lack of architectural integrity and historical consideration based on the sleek tower’s design.

Buffalo does have plenty to brag about. HARBORCENTER will be hosting games and serving up food at (716) before the month is over, the Embassy Suites anchor one of my favorite buildings in Buffalo and the Delaware North Tower is rising at an incredible clip. So don’t mistake consternation over Cleveland’s success for ignorance of everything great happening in Buffalo. In fact, Buffalo’s civic leaders ought to lift a page right out of Cleveland’s book.

One of the many projects that are working towards completion in Cleveland is a 143-foot pedestrian drawbridge that will connect portions of Cleveland’s lakefront. As the picture above shows, this is a visually pleasing bridge that will provide direct pedestrian access to an otherwise difficult to reach location. Sound familiar?

Buffalo will have a neat and convenient ferry that will shuttle people and bicycles from Canalside to the Outer Harbor in quick trips that will reduce or eliminate the need to even trek down a newly renovated Ohio St.  With the long-term plan of putting an at-grade bridge across the Buffalo River, why not look into a pedestrian bridge like the one above as a compliment to everything else that is being worked on?

The project cost of the Cleveland project is $5.5 million. That’s not small potatoes. Considering that any span across the Buffalo River would be nearly three or four times the length and the bridge would need to draw high enough to allow the lake freighters through as well. The easiest location would be to connect across near the end or Erie street or even at the mouth of the river across to the lighthouse walkway.

Unfortunately the shortest span would be at the mouth of the river and even that length would likely far surpass the $5.5 million price tag of the Cleveland bridge. I could see that making this a cost-prohibitive project. But maybe a bridge, combined with the new ferry and a renovated Ohio St., would buy more time for a vehicle bridge at the inner harbor. Maybe it’s simply time to strike out and add another signature item to our bustling waterfront.

 

 

Canalside is Finally Nearing its Potential

If you get the chance, take a drive down to Canalside this weekend. Every square inch of concrete has been poured on the historically aligned canals and yet another major milestone has been reached by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation. Now it’s time to wait.IMG_3563

Aside from the literal waiting that will accompany the concrete’s 28-day curing process (per The Buffalo News) it also appears that we will be waiting for the next significant move from the ECHDC. Tom Dee is always careful with his words but he never hesitates to reveal significant items when the opportunity presents itself. Yesterday’s development was no different as Dee said that Canalside is well past it’s tipping point.

I have to disagree with his sentiment. This is the tipping point. Continue reading

The 2ITB Plan for a Bills stadium

The Bills sale is going to close before we know it and the focus will shift from who will be purchasing the team to what that new owner plans to do for a new stadium.

More than a few opinions are floating around currently and this week’s Artvoice cover story goes into great detail about a very cool plan for a new stadium in the heart of downtown. It is a phenomenal article written by a pair of stadium experts with the details worked out and planned by a true expert.

I really love the idea of depressing the 190 and eliminating a great deal of the barriers that sever the central business district from the waterfront. My concern is that the costs associated with such a project would ultimately doom this plan, despite its resounding brilliance. There won’t be a better alternative in terms of quality, preparation and vision compared to what Andrew Kulyk, Peter Farrell and the rest of the Artvoice crew came up with.Bills

That being said, I decided to break down and share my own personal pipe dream for a downtown stadium. In a previous post on this site, I alluded to my interest in utilizing the Perry Projects as the site for a new stadium. I love the proximity to Canalside and First Niagara Center along with the opportunity to reinvigorate a district that has been whittled down to a single block of buildings.

This plan is contingent on one major factor: the development of an adequate replacement to the current Perry Projects. If there isn’t a feasible option for relocating the residents of both the towers and two-story apartments, there is no reason to think about a stadium on this site. Ideally the BMHA (whose office near the Perry projects would need to move as well) would be able to take advantage of the countless vacant lots throughout the city to develop a replacement project. Getting funding for this project from the future owner would certainly go a long way in financing the construction of the new units while aiding in gaining approval for such an undertaking.

Assuming that a new home for the Perry Projects is found, the rest of my proposal follows in a fairly simple path. Upon replacing the Perry Projects, I’d see both the currently occupied buildings along with the vacant ones further south demolished to make way for new development. Everything between Chicago and Hamburg St. could be removed and that land would serve as the location of the new stadium. There would be space for new offices for the Bills as well if that was deemed a necessary addition. You’ll notice that I’m leaving out the field house because I feel that the current one serves the team too well to simply be cast aside. Continue reading

Reserving green space and public access to the Outer Harbor is key

Things have shaped up over the last few months around Buffalo’s waterfront. Approximately a year removed from a relative low point in construction and planning – punctuated by the removal of Pike Construction from the Aud site – things have hit a definitive upswing.

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation has recently taken control of Outer Harbor land and are currently working to identify the proper direction for the property. The public hearings on the land appear to reflect the desire for park space to occupy most, if not all of the ECHDC-held land. As someone who has longed to see true progress along the waterfront in the form of a mixed-use, entertainment district I feel that this seems like a terrific way to go for the Outer Harbor.

If the Outer Harbor was kept as green space that maximized public access thanks to the acres and acres of land, the Inner Harbor and Canalside could be left to grow as the entertainment district it’s been slated to become since the first drafts of the master plan were laid out. A relationship of public access and green space along the Outer Harbor and mixed-use development on the Inner Harbor would not only appease nearly every sector of the public, but would also allow the ECHDC to keep their focus on each topic without being spread thin.

Of course, that means that the Outer Harbor is indeed pegged to become a sterling waterfront park. It seems doubtful that the Outer Harbor is used for a football stadium, residential development or any other sort of large development. This is a space that is already dominated by a number of linked green spaces that could be further enhanced if the space was enhanced further. Continue reading