Webster Block proposals on the table

Both Carl Paladino and the Buffalo Sabres bid for the Webster Block are now open to the public. Both on the City of Buffalo website and The Buffalo News.

Courtesy: The Buffalo News

Paladino released renderings of his plans early in the process in what was likely a play for some positive PR from anyone keeping track of the project. The Sabres proposal, called the Harbor Center, was expected to be impressive and upon a cursory reading of their proposal, it is.

According to documents attached to the news story, Harbor Center will combine a pair of ice rinks on the lower roof of the building and a 200 room hotel facing the lake which looks to take up somewhere north of seven or eight floors.

The rink layout is staggered along the length of the building, as is the hotel. Other details that stood out is the apparent layout of where the restaurant and retail locations would be located. The Harbor Center has a very Torontonian feel to it for some reason. When everything is finished between the Donovan Building and Webster Block, the density and design concepts in that neighborhood will be very impressive.

On the surface, the Harbor Center appears to be the superior plan of the two on the table. Both look very similar in nearly every aspect of the architecture. Charles Gordon (Paladino’s architect) incorporated a number of design details from the surrounding neighborhood. This is likely to score points with those who have been all about buildings in the arena district evoking the right design principles.

Paladino’s plan incorporates a different type of multi-use approach with offices, hotel and apartments. It is a strong plan which is sure to have a similar effect on the neighborhood. However, I wonder if the market for filling the apartment and office space will be there. Of course, in 18-24 months the market could be much different than it is now.

The hotel component for each is smart. Even with the Courtyard Marriott going in across the street, the hotel market in Buffalo will fill the need in that department.

Courtesy: The Buffalo News

All things being equal, I still like the Harbor Center. It provides more general access than the Paladino proposal. The pair of rinks will keep a constant flow of people into the building and neighborhood year-round. That, coupled with the shopping and restaurants that will open two months prior to the ice rinks, will serve as an anchor for those heading down to the Harbor Center.

The only drawback that I see is the reported need for public subsidies for the Sabres proposal. The News notes that the Harbor Center is well north of $100M, while Paladino’s proposal will fall in the neighborhood of $60M.

I would anticipate that the cost of the Sabres proposal and the need for public support could cause trouble with the approval process. Should the Paladino project be named the winner in August, I’d assume the need for subsidies would be the main reason.

On the bright side, one of these two projects will be built and should be done by late 2014. Significant progress will be made within the next six to ten months and hopefully, at the end of the line, there will be a pair of ice rinks coupled with a parking garage and hotel.

In less than three weeks the RFP will be awarded and a major step forward will be taken for the arena district as a whole.

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