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

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

Dynamic Perry Street project should be fast tracked

A super group of business entities that occupy various areas around Canalside and the Cobblestone District have joined forces in hopes of adding streetscape improvements to Perry Street and the area around Canalside.

As reported by Buffalo Rising, Seneca Gaming, the Sabres, Savarino Companies and HSBC have all voiced support of a project that will connect Canalside with its neighbors around the larger arena and entertainment district with an impressive set of streetscape upgrades.

From the Buffalo Rising report:

The primary goal of the project is to enhance the visual appeal and experience of the corridor and to link the areas entertainment and retail connections. Design highlights:

  • Widen the pedestrian corridors by shifting parking away from the sidewalk in some locations and using unique and sculptural screening elements to buffer the lots. The screening elements would be reminiscent of the area’s industrial past.
  • Provide unique and consistent catenary street lighting to visually reinforce linkages between destinations.
  • Use artistic lighting accents and aerial lighting canopies over crosswalks to highlight key nodes.
  • Install curving and colorful pavement design to evoke a waterfront theme and allow for seating opportunities, landscape buffer treatments and trees.
  • Plant a double rows of trees on each side of the street to create a canopied walkway with permeable concrete and structural soils beneath to establish desirable growing conditions.
  • Use cobblestone materials for benches, planter curbs, and other features to unify the look of the street with the rest of the Cobblestone District.
  • Improve street aesthetics and safety with new safe pedestrian crossings, line-striped crosswalks, and pavement overlays, including well-defined and buffered bicycle lanes.
  • Utilize wayfinding signage to provide directions to pedestrians, drivers and cyclers. Continue reading

Sabres Harbor Center chosen for the Webster Block

It is official. The development team led by Terry Pegula and the Buffalo Sabres has been selected to develop the Webster Block.

Work can now begin on the HARBORcenter project that won the bid process for the Sabres’ group. When finished, the building will include parking, a hotel, two ice rinks along with retail and restaurant space. Their official proposal tabbed March as the start of construction, which is the date the Sabres will stick with.

News reports indicate that the restaurant, retail, ice rinks and parking will be ready for the start of the 2014-15 season with the hotel to follow shortly after. With the ground breaking set for March, I would anticipate that significant process will be occurring late in the summer of 2013.

Coupled with the progress on One Canalside (Donovan Building), the faux canals and the rest of the Aud Block, the Canalside footprint will suddenly be awash with construction projects. For a district that stayed afloat on renderings and proposals, this is a breath of fresh air.

The choice of the HARBORcenter over and Carl Paladino’s proposal likely came down to the office component that was part of the Paladino project. With the HSBC tower set to be largely vacated, there was no need for over 100,000 square feet of new office space so close to what is soon to be a vacant tower. In addition, the year-round draw that will come from the ice rink component makes HARBORcenter an extremely viable project.

In addition, the inclusion of Tim Horton’s and New Era as retail partners in the HARBORcenter plans showed that the retail component is going to have an immediate impact. Hearing the word “destination” attached to the Tim Horton’s location is particularly intriguing. I know one source pointed to this as potentially being built as the world’s largest Tim Horton’s.

One thing that should be noted is that this project was kept out of the hands of ECHDC. Byron Brown wanted to keep this as a city parcel and fast track the development and did just thatNot to denigrate the work that has been done by ECHDC at Canalside, but that project has has run into its fair share of snags, holdups and setbacks over the past few years. So much so that all that can be shown for the development of Canalside are a few plush lawns and some colorful chairs. Even one of the lawns came courtesy of Terry Pegula.

Before Donn Esmonde takes the time to credit the slower, dumber, cheaper approach that is being taken at Canalside, realize that lawn chairs have nothing to do with this project. This was a parcel that was identified as prime for major development and the city didn’t settle for anything less. So, if you see some form of rhetoric touting the Adirondack chairs and their influence on this project, realize it is bull crap.

What should be pointed out is that the relationship that HARBORcenter and Canalside will have is definitely going to be give and take. Canalside, while devoid of permanent attractions and activities, draws massive crowds every summer. Once the compressors are active in the canals, it will be a year-round destination. The throngs of people that frequent Canalside will be happy to find accessible parking and real, sit down food options at HARBORcenter. On the other hand, those planning on heading to HARBORcenter for hockey or a meal will be lucky enough to stroll down to the waterfront and take in everything that Canalside has become.

Adding Tim Horton’s and New Era brings the first real private retailers to Canalside’s doorstep along with a full-scale sit down restaurant. Add in the restaurant space at One Canalside and there will be a trio of restaurants (Liberty Hound) just outside of FNC set to serve fans and participants of youth or adult hockey games. Then, of course, there are the hotel patrons that will be staying in either HARBORcenter or One Canalside.

These hotel rooms will serve out-of-town travelers, hockey families and a number of other directly in the heart of downtown near what is now becoming one of the more exciting areas of the city.

There is a ton of positive momentum building at Canalside. Some of it has come from the ancillary installations that have been put in in lieu of any concrete development over the past five years. However, today’s announcement welcomes a second full-scale piece of development that will serve as a true cornerstone for the district.

Choosing HARBORcenter may have been a difficult decision to come to, but it most certainly was the right conclusion to reach.

Helium adds a new wrinkle to Cobblestone

What was supposed to be a post about the arrival of a new comedy club down in the Cobblestone District morphed into something totally different. Instead of talking about Helium Comedy Club taking over in the space that formerly housed Morrisey’s and Benchwarmers became thoughts on the need for more people in the area around First Niagara Center.

However, I still wanted to explore what could come of Cobblestone’s newest tenant.

The fact that there is going to be a full-fledged comedy club down in the heart of the arena district is huge. The only drawback is the lack of your traditional bar/restaurant with the departure of Morriseys and Benchwarmers. However, this has the potential to be self-sustaining to a degree.

While Morrisey’s and Benchwarmers likely ebbed and flowed with hockey season, Helium has the ability to become a destination all by itself. The key will be booking solid acts on a regular occasion while also providing a solid regular lineup.

I’m no expert on the comedy scene, so I’m not sure how big of a room Helium will have as compared to the type of club which land relatively solid acts. Regardless, I think it will be key to ensure the long-term success of the club. It will be particularly important in the early going as the casino, Webster Block and Donovan Buildings are built out. Continue reading

Buffalo Pipe Dream: A better use for the Cobblestone Parking District

Note the four massive parking lots smack in the middle of this “district”.

With a trio of pipe dreams on paper, I thought I would share another idea I have been mulling for some time. This will revolve around two massive parking lots and one densely packed neighborhood otherwise known as the Cobblestone District.

Let’s call a spade a spade. The Cobblestone District is horribly named. It should be the Cobblestone Parking District. After all, 75% of the neighborhood is composed of two massive surface lots that are kept empty expect for 100 days a year when the arena is in use. These lots were spawned due to the construction of the arena, but I can’t imagine that this was the only use that planners could have come up with for two such massive pieces of land.

The one surviving block has become a well-used strip of property with some terrific re-use projects anchoring the side of the block that fronts Mississippi St. The back side (Illinois St.) leaves much to be desired, but most of the buildings are at least occupied at this time. There is still a massive black hole in the old smith shop on the corner of South Park and Illinois that has slowly become an albatross for the neighborhood and the building owner. There are plenty of great re-use ideas on the table for that property, but I doubt anything will ever come of it.

A photo from Buffalo Rising showing a terrific re-use for the empty smith shop in the Cobblestone District.

As for the rest; there is nothing. Literally nothing. The streets are paved with Cobblestones but they are utterly pointless as there is nothing that they lead to. This needs to change. There is a slow trickle of development happening on the waterfront and the Buffalo Creek Casino appears to be poised to grow out of the pathetic steel building it currently occupies. By the time these two pieces of the puzzle are complete, I will be 50; but I digress.

The Cobblestone District sits between two very important pieces of Buffalo’s entertainment district. Canalside and the arena make up one bookend and the casino makes up the other. There is a tremendous opportunity for this district to become something similar to Toronto’s Distillery District and act as a solid filler for two major pieces of entertainment in the city. However, the massive plain of concrete needs to rise into something better. I think I may have a solution – or, at least part of one. Continue reading

Preservation vs. Obstruction

Sam Savarino and Roger Trettel are very smart men. They have created very successful real estate companies and have taken the reigns in helping to develop what is left of the Cobblestone District.


This needs to happen

One if their neighbors, Daryl Carr (owner of Cobblestone) has been trying to demolish a set of buildings on the corner of Illinois and South Park for some time. What will replace them is up for debate, but it seems like parking lot is where the spinning wheel of ‘progress’ may land. Continue reading