Pegulas can put the Arena District on their Shoulders

A little over a week ago I heard that some action could be happening at the foot of Washington Street. The dominoes began to fall today as the Pegulas are reported to have the Hi-Temp Fabrication building at Illinois and Perry under contract.exterior-day

Pegula’s purchase of the building throws his hat back into the Arena District development ring as it would be surprising if he didn’t have plans to renovate the five-story warehouse. While any talk about plans would be speculative, it’s my understanding that Pegula had been chasing this building for quite some time as a home for the Sabres offices. So unless plans have changed, I’d bet on the organization following that track.

Relocating the Sabres offices would make a lot of sense as it would open up a large space in the suite level – and directly above the Lexus Club – for development into a fan focused area. A specialized lounge in the suite level would not only give the team another money making outlet, it would add a brand new amenity to the 20 year-old arena.

There have also been rumblings about some Canalside parcels opening up to development this summer and there are plenty of signs pointing to the PSE empire being the selected developer if that comes to fruition. While that’s far more rumor than fact at this point, the Pegula resume far surpasses that of anyone else who have sunk their teeth into Canalside to this point in the district’s development.

Assuming that the Pegula/Canalside rumors are indeed true, we may be on our way to seeing the growth of an Arena District not unlike the one that surrounds Nationwide Arena in Columbus.

PSE would have some work to do in order to transform the area around the soon-to-be KeyBank Center into something that rivals what exists in Columbus. The acquisition of Hi-Temp certainly gets them much closer, however.

The lone block of the Cobblestone District that still holds buildings boasts a handful of great adaptive reuses and Hi-Temp has the bones to add a gem to that collection. Whether it’s offices, apartments or a mix of both, a facelift and added activity for that block is just what the doctor ordered. I’d love if Pegula used the middle two floors for offices and the upper two floors for apartments with a bar/restaurant filling the ground floor. It would inject more residents to that neighborhood, open space in the arena for improvements and introduce more life at street level.

I could even see the Sabres moving the Sabres Store over to this space if the right plan came together. That would probably requiring roping together the current Sabres Store, the former Backstage Club/Ira G. Ross Museum and the open space along Main St. Moving the primary retail outlet out of the arena wouldn’t make too much sense, but if the plan for reusing that current space was right I wouldn’t have any complaints whatsoever.

One cool recommendation that I saw on a Buffalo Rising comment (seriously) was to develop the small lot behind Hi-Temp to house the Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. As we discussed on a recent podcast, that Hall of Fame is fairly underwhelming and finding a larger, permanent home for it could be a nice addition. I’d also love to see a Sabres Hall of Fame or museum created in some space in the arena or nearby, that surface lot would be a terrific fit.

For the time being, opening up the upper floors of Hi-Temp for reuse and the ability to put in a bar/restaurant would be terrific. Just imagine a patio around the side and back that utilized those big garage doors to open up the walls.

Exactly what we can expect beyond Hi-Temp is a complete unknown. If I jump to the conclusion that Pegula will eventually be named the developer of the parcels opposite HarborCenter, the possibilities get very exciting.

The design constraints of Canalside would limit any buildings to a max height between three and five stories and within the look of the former canal-era buildings which previously dotted this area. More opportunities for mixed-use buildings that hold office space, apartments or condos, retail and restaurants would certainly follow. Not only would that be a massive addition to the Arena District as a whole, but it would be a huge step forward for Canalside as we continue to wait to see shovels in the ground on anything bigger than a beer garden.

These types of development would really go a long way in making the area around the arena a year-round destination. It’s what I’ve been eagerly waiting to see come to fruition for a number of years and to see the next set of significant moves made – or to be made when it comes to Canalside – makes me very optimistic for what’s next.

I could go on for quite some time about how the Sabres could take strides to make some big time exterior renovations to the arena to help match what’s to come around Cobblestone and Canalside. I’ll likely offer a follow up to this old post on Cobblestone as part of my reaction to today’s announcement as well. There has been a lot of dancing around potential projects in this part of the city for quite some time, to think that Terry Pegula and PSE could provide a huge shot in the arm is tremendous.

With the World Juniors returning the Buffalo, the NCAA basketball tournament a regular visitor, a hard push to land the Frozen Four again and so much attention paid to other major special events, creating a world-class Arena District will go a long way in luring those events and impressing visitors to our fine town.

For the time being we do have to wait and see if the rumors on Canalside come to fruition. Should they prove to be true PSE will wind up playing the primary role in transforming the Arena District, which is something to really look forward to.

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