Ted Black came out of this weekend’s board of governors meeting with a mission that he has trumpeted many times over the past 12 months. He wants to host anything and everything related to the NHL.
Whether it be the All-Star Game, Draft, Winter Classic or something so cool we haven’t even heard of it, Black and the Sabres want in. Unfortunately the Columbus Blue Jackets will host the 2013 All-Star Game before the event is skipped for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. However, being passed over for next season may be in the best interest for the Sabres as a team (and management) and the City of Buffalo.
First of all, it is totally awesome to think that Ted Black is going into every BOG meeting and lobbying for the Sabres to host the any major NHL event. This is just another one of those tangible examples of what this ownership group is doing to make Buffalo “Hockey Heaven”.
Going into All-Star weekend, 2012 Draft and 2013 Winter Classic hosts had already been chosen. Also, considering the Leafs will be the visitors for the next Classic, it is safe to assume the Leafs will be due to host in the near future. The decision on who would host next year’s All-Star game was to be made this weekend; giving Black the opportunity to pull for Buffalo as the hosts.
With Columbus hosting next season and the Olympics likely cancelling the 2014 event, the next All-Star Game without a host will be 2015. Looking at all the secondary factors; that should be the game Buffalo pushes to host.
To begin, First Niagara Center is a perfect arena to host an All-Star game or any other major NHL event. Between the original features (pavilion, Harbour Club, congregating areas) and the new additions (laser beam Zambonis and locker room renovations), FNC is a class-A venue for any major event. It is the area outside the Arena that is ill prepared.
Columbus is a terrific barometer for Buffalo in terms of identifying what steps need to be taken to be able to host this type of event. Columbus has a terrific arena district with – brace yourselves – things to do before and after events. The Arena District helped get Nationwide ranked first by my USRT friends and is given four stars by Stadium Journey. Walk out of FNC on a given night and there are four bars within walking distance, or you can drive elsewhere for postgame entertainment.
Despite the proximity of Canalside, there is little to do in the district that should act as the entertainment anchor for downtown Buffalo. Not only would I consider Buffalo incapable of hosting the next All-Star game, I wonder how prepared the city was to hose the World Juniors last year. Let us not forget the statement made by Brian Higgins in 2008 at the WJC announcement. He said there would be development prepared and progress made at Canalside before the tournament began. Three years later, we are still waiting.
Make no mistake, USA Hockey and the Sabres put on a terrific tournament. It was the activities beyond the arena that were lacking. There was plenty of flap about the lack of attractions in Buffalo during the WJC. Plopping one of the NHL’s premier events in the city right now would do little to dispel the criticism levied one year ago. Time needs to pass for attractions to be built up around the arena. One year’s time would not be enough.
The Donovan Building is required to be finished by the end of 2013; the canals are expected to be completed by the end of 2012, but may not be in full function until well into 2013. There are plenty of interesting plans in place for developing additional attractions, but no shovels are in the ground at this point. Just that short overview shows more time needs to pass. Allowing for a two-year run to further develop the district not only provides the time to construct the necessary attractions, but the ability to fine-tune them as well.
Assuming the 2015 All-Star Game is awarded to Buffalo, the progress in Canalside will likely be far advanced. It would be criminal if there is little more than “functional lawns” and 18” canals in such a burgeoning district in 2015. I can’t imagine it would be too hard to lure Dinosaur BBQ into a new building in the district. The same goes for many other restaurateurs and retail establishments looking for space.
Along with other areas in the city (Larkin, BNMC, the casino etc.), Canalside should serve as a testament to the city’s progress, not a blight on the lack of movement and inability to accomplish anything.
Regardless of the Sabres’ standing in poaching NHL events in two years, there should be visible progress made downtown. Taking the concrete projects and the pipe dreams into account, Canalside (and the rest of the city) should be prepared to serve as a terrific centerpiece when the NHL rolls into town.