Flying Bison’s move would have been a steal for Canalside

For as much good is done at Canalside, it always feels like they’re missing out on the big score. Yet another piece of development news broke today regarding a project that should have been tailor made for Canalside.

As Jim Fink reports in Business First, Flying Bison is exploring a move to a new property in Larkinville in an effort to expand their burgeoning business. According to the report, Flying Bison is eyeing a 12,500 square foot building on Seneca Street for their new home. Here’s more from Fink:

Flying Bison plans on moving by March 2014 from its original home on Ontario Street to the new site. Since its 2000 inception, Flying Bison has leased its Ontario Street site and the building’s owner, DiVal Safety Equipment now needs the building for its own expansion needs.

Herzog said Flying Bison had pinpointed a pair of Michigan Avenue buildings, but those deals could not be completed.

The new building will allow Flying Bison to increase its output and also develop an indoor beer garden/tasting room as part of the tours that regularly take place at the brewery.

Sure 12,500 square feet is big. But would a brewery have not been a killer attraction for Canalside? Think of having Flying Bison’s new brewery (and restaurant?) situated on the Northwest corner of the Aud Block overlooking the recreated canals and facing towards the river, Arena and the rest of Canalside. Instead we continue to wait on the faux historically aligned canals to be completed let alone see any sort of significant construction towards attracting additional tenants to the district. Note: One Canalside and HARBORcenter are both tremendous projects that show how vitally important private interest and investment in the area will be. Continuing to miss out on these types of opportunities is the issue at hand.

This isn’t meant to discount the Larkin District, either. That’s a tremendous neighborhood and the development there is unparalleled. This will be a great project for that district aided by the fact that there are already buildings ready to be filled by new owners. One of the first plans for Canalside called for buildings to go up ready for tenants, but that was shot down in favor of the light, quicker, cheaper programming led by the sunset chair brigade.

The folly is that the ECHDC and Canalside will be missing out on a tenant that could serve as a cornerstone to the mixed-use entertainment district that the region is waiting on. At some point there needs to be some brick and mortar to back up the merits of “500 events a year” and “800,000 visitors”. Or perhaps a simple disclaimer that lingering at Canalside longer than 25 minutes is a challenge on most days.

Not only would a development like this help pave the way for additional commercial tenants, but it would be the type of year-round service that has been desperately missed to this point.

Obviously this all costs money. And building new – particularly a building suited to your specific needs – is going to cost a hell of a lot more than moving into a pre-existing structure elsewhere in the city. So you can’t fault Flying Bison for making the right decision for their business. Nor can you blame ECHDC for being in a situation where they’re unable to recruit tenants to fill new builds.

Where you can find fault is Canalside and the ECHDC’s  massive mishandling of the canal project continues to serve as a monumental setback for a district that has seen nothing but setbacks since the first rendering was introduced. Additionally, the failure to provide the skeleton of some of the period-style buildings that are poised to fill the district as the construction has progressed is another missed opportunity for the property’s managers. It’s a point I’ve made before, but how great would it be if BFLO Harbor Kayak and the Spirit of Buffalo had a real rental and tour office rather than operating from a tent and kiosk?

It seems fairly obvious that the ECHDC needs to show potential tenants that this a desirable location. We’ve gone on long enough hoisting the benefits of all the events and all the visitors without seeing much independent interest for Canalside parcels – note that Terry Pegula’s investment in the Webster Block is practically independent of any future development at Canalside.

The skeleton of the Explore-N-More museum is going to be built by ECHDC. This is a great step forward and that will not only provide a specific framework for what other buildings in the area will look like, but to stake a further claim for private investors in the neighborhood. You can’t tell me that a similar course of action to help attract a full-service, local brewing company wouldn’t further stimulate that type of private interest. Just imagine what it would be like having a business somewhat similar to Pearl Street operating right alongside the recreated canals.

Perhaps it’s the shattered  image of a signature space for Flying Bison at Canalside that is clouding my opinion, but it just seems like a massive missed opportunity for the ECHDC and Canalside.

At some point there needs to actually be things to do at Canalside. They don’t necessarily need to be all alcohol-related, it just so happens that food and alcohol related activities tend to keep people in an area for extended periods of time. Not to mention the fact that this is right next door to a sports arena.

Canalside is not going to be worse off because they missed a chance on Flying Bison. But the district won’t be better off, either.

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