Despite obstructionist claims, HARBORcenter will be an asset

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.

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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.