The beginnings of this site go back to the summer of 2010 when I starting tossing random musings together before eventually deciding to stick to sports®. Not long after that the site became dedicated to all things Bills, Sabres, Bandits and Buffalo.
Now it’s pretty much just a Sabres site with the odd Buffalo development story sprinkled in. There are only so many hours in the day, people. One topic I’ve always had a strong opinion on was the need to upgrade and renovate KeyBank Center (and First Niagara Center and HSBC Arena). My first foray into offering takes on what could improve the arena dropped in 2011 and it’s something I’ve kept an eye on ever since.
So when news broke last summer that the Pegulas had began working with contractors and doing leg work on renovating the arena, I got very excited. KeyBank Center turned 20 in 2016 and the building is really showing its age. Bringing the facility up to par with other buildings around the country would create a better fan experience and possibly open Buffalo up to more opportunities for special events.
More news has dropped in recent weeks and months about those initial reports, including a WGRZ report on fan complaints. Many of the topics covered were things the Sabres Twitter community has been discussing for a few years now.
It strikes me that we aren’t too far off from seeing plans (renderings!!!) of the changes the Sabres and Pegulas have in mind for the building. Therefore, I wanted to hit reset in a way, and collect the random musings I’ve thrown out over the past year to two in a wishlist of sorts for what I’d like to see done when the time comes to renovate the arena.
This is far and away the most ambitious and unrealistic item on the list but it’s also the one thing I’d be most excited to see taken on in any coming renovation project.
Even before HarborCenter was built, the front door of the arena was beginning to look dated compared to newer buildings and arenas closer in age to KBC around the NHL. With HarborCenter built directly into the atrium, the dated façade was massively altered, leaving a disjointed look to the front of the building.
Finding a better way to transition between the two buildings would create a more cohesive overall look while creating the opportunity to remake the remaining portions of KeyBank Center which aren’t impacted by the bridge to HarborCenter. I would prefer a sleek, glass façade to replace what’s there currently, giving the building a far more modern appearance. Using a creative transition from HarborCenter’s brick to the new glass façade would be a unique, added benefit to the overall design.
The real opportunity, in my opinion, is to allow the Alumni Plaza to serve as the new front door of the arena. As the area devoted to plaza parties and The French Connection statue, it’s already the go-to area for any outdoor activity tied to the arena. Cleaning up the area and giving it a new look would amplify a space that’s already heavily utilized by the organization.
My pipe dream would be to reset the path of the bridge that spans from the garage to the arena. Instead of a straight shot, a curved bridge that would move away from Perry St. would not only look more dynamic but would add space to the “front” of Alumni Plaza. It would also create the illusion of embracing the statue(s) in Alumni Plaza, adding some artistic flair to the design of the area.
That redesigned bridge would be dressed in the same type of glass that wrapped around the corner of the atrium and around that side of the arena. Ideally the curvature of the bridge would play into the shape of the new glass on the main portion of the building, creating an undulating wave look to the area just outside of the box office and guest services.
I’d love to see the Sabres (along with the city and county) explore expanding that area of the atrium as well. Is it conceivable to give the box office a slightly larger footprint – expanding out into the unused portion of the plaza under the bridge – as part of the larger process of redoing the look of the façade? Construction costs alone likely rule that out, but a bit more space on the ground floor could translate to the second level of the atrium as well, thereby adding some much needed common space to help disperse crowds in the concourse.
Another feature I’d add to the new glass façade would be a call back to the front portion of The Aud. Specifically the curved portions with the narrow windows. I’d steal a concept used at the United Center and Prudential Center by inserting video screens into the areas where the windows would be. I’m not sure how this would play out on an all-glass façade but if it was executed properly it would look really cool and serve as a great homage to the building that preceded this one.
The end result on the plaza side of the building would be a dramatic new “front door” that would serve as a phenomenal backdrop for playoff plaza parties (HA!) and other outdoor events.
That Stupid Patio
I’m sure during the arena’s planning and construction the idea of a patio that faced the waterfront was met with a lot of positive reviews. In theory it’s a great idea. But aside from the announcement to build HarborCenter I can’t remember the last time it was used. So why leave that space just sitting there?
Enclose the patio and add that space to the Lexus Club. The exterior wall can match the arches on the Main St. side of the building and that too would serve to improve the transition between HarborCenter and the arena.
The one thing I feel the arena suffers from most is the manner in which it was constructed. It has a very utilitarian design that gets people in and to their seats for the game. Common areas are sparse and in recent years – maybe not so much this year – the concourses have felt overly congested. Fixing that isn’t exactly easy as you’d have to get very creative in terms of engineering and architecture to push the floor plates out beyond the current exterior wall to simply gain a few more feet horizontally. Not exactly an affordable or realistic endeavor.
But the planned NFTA extension into the DL&W Terminal is expected to include at least one bridge into the arena. That means the rear of the building will need to be opened up on the 100 level to accommodate the addition. Why not take the opportunity to do more than open up a double set of doors on that back wall of the arena? Cantilevering the floor out a few feet would provide the necessary space for fans to enter the building while also creating a new common area for people to congregate in. That might be another challenge in terms of costs and execution, but that extra space would be a welcome addition in some very tight concourses.
Adding new windows to that area would also add some natural light to the concourse while offering up some unique views of the area outside the building. If that plan is realistic and relatively easy to accomplish, doing it in a couple of other areas along the concourses would add much-needed common areas that could ease congestion during pregame and between periods.
The Sabres deserve a lot of credit for the way they transformed the area which used to house the basketball and hockey nets. That was a dead area of the building and now it’s a bustling food court. The Pour Man’s Aud Club is another excellent addition, although I think they could stand to be even more heavy handed with historical additions to that area. And the Southern Tier Brewing stand is a cool feature as well. That being said, there is room for added features which could serve as window dressings in lieu of bigger undertakings on the interior of the arena.
The Lexus Club, in my opinion, is a poorly executed feature. It’s closed off from the concourse and has an air of privilege tied to it despite being in the 100 level. It’s also prime real estate, with massive windows facing the waterfront. Converting this to an area which would be frequented by more fans wouldn’t just help ease the congestion in the concourses, it could serve as a crown jewel for the renovated building.
There have been rumors and expectations that the Sabres will move their offices out of the suite level and into the Labatt House once that project is finished. I was first told this was a plan when Terry Pegula was still chasing the purchase of the former Hi-Temp warehouse. I’m not sure if those plans had changed, but by moving the offices the Sabres would have created a massive area which would serve premium seat holders. There’s enough space that they could probably even connect a new staircase with the 200 level Harbour Club to ensure both 200 level ticket holders and suite holders had easy access to the new premium club.
By moving the Lexus Club up to the new space in the suite level, there would be an opportunity for new development in the space currently occupied by the Lexus Club. And if they follow my idea of enclosing the patio, there would be that much more space to operate with.
That would create the opportunity to move the Lexus Club up to the new space while opening the current area of the Lexus Club (now with added space thanks to my idea of enclosing the patio) for a new development. Some sort of bar/restaurant is the obvious choice and furthering PSE’s partnership with Southern Tier or exploring the option of opening an EBC location in that space would be phenomenal. Opening up the back walls so there’s more visibility to the 100 level concourse would be a great step to take as would finding a partner who would be able to stay open above and beyond gamedays.
That might sound like an odd caveat but there’s an exterior staircase that leads up to the back of the Lexus Club’s patio. There’s easy access to the venue even if there’s no event at the arena and you can keep foot traffic flowing even when the building is shuttered. Why not give Canalside patrons another dining option during the summer? Seems silly not to take advantage of that.
Backstage Club/Sabres Hall of Fame
No area of the arena is as underutilized as the Backstage Club. Also known as the former Ira G. Ross Aerospace Museum. There’s actually quite a bit of underutilized space along the Main St. side of the building, including office space which has only recently been occupied.
The Backstage Club is a very large multi-use space which doesn’t get a whole lot of love at the moment. Combined with the offices which face out to Main St., there’s a lot of opportunity for that portion of the arena.
I’ve mentioned this many times before and my opinion hasn’t changed at all. That area is perfect for a combination Sabres Museum and Hall of Fame.
Mixing historical displays (like we say during the 40th anniversary) with interactive features (like at the Hockey Hall of Fame) would create a year-round draw for fans to enjoy. Typical displays of jerseys, gear and memorabilia could compliment a shrine for Sabres Hall of Fame members while interactive games like recreating famous RJ calls and stopping shots from Jack Eichel (read: puck machine) would be great draws for kids and adults alike.
Disneyfy the exit and have it feed right into the team store so that whether it’s a game day or the offseason, you’re encouraging a purchase once mom and dad go through the museum with junior. With the museum on the ground floor and a bar/restaurant on the second, you’d create a fair bit of critical mass that would jive well with Canalside on a year-round basis.
This is the most glaring area in need of TLC. Nearly every fan who has been to the arena in recent years have remarked about dirty, broken and unsightly seats. The Sabres badly need to address this situation with a full overhaul of all three levels of the arena (the suites already got their facelift).
For starters, put cushions on every seat. It’s ridiculous that the 300 level from row three up has hard plastic while every seat below has padding. A padded seat shouldn’t alter the price point of a ticket, we’ve seen most, if not all, new arenas feature padded seats throughout (Pittsburgh, for example), the Sabres can get with the times on this one.
It seems like the fans are hoping to see some more color in the arena as well once the seats are replaced. The blue and gold alternating sections for the home opener were a massive hit and the team could score big points if they went that route when the new seats are put in. I’d prefer to see another homage to The Aud. Either in direct recreation of the seating format colors or in a more subtle manner.
The area of the 200 level where the intermission desk sits is very underutilized. Even with the intermission desk there, it’s a ghost town on most nights. The team should consider making that an extension of the 100 level so fans from any section can go down and hang out during the game.
Finding a new location for Duffer and Marty to broadcast from would be tough but an ambitious plan that extended the aisles in 110, 111 and 112 up to that space and installed a bar in the back portion would create a cool, unique standing area for fans to congregate in.
You’d not only have another sponsorship opportunity but this would serve as a college student section type area in the end of the arena where the Sabres shoot twice.
Interactive Concourse Features
I get pretty sore about the state of KBC’s concourses. Aside from the overcrowding that seems to be creeping in, the lack of modern features is stark. Many other arenas have put in various interactive or other similar features around their concourses. All KeyBank Center has to offer are dated images of alumni and the plays on the 100 level floor which I’d venture very few people know about.
I think the last thing people cared to notice were the Dellas portraits that started popping up in 06-07.
Both the 100 level and 300 level concourses need to be updated – the 300 level just needs to be acknowledged as part of the building – and introducing various interactive features is the path forward. Something that would play highlights of key plays in Sabres (and Buffalo sports) history. Different presentations – fan driven touch screens, rotating highlights, uniform and jersey history – would help better disperse the crowds and keep people coming back on a regular basis. And the greatest benefit of this all is that you introduce two modern features that will help make the concourses relevant compared to arenas around the league.
- New scoreboard: I’ve heard this had been in the works for a couple of years now and rolling it into a larger renovation plan makes a lot of sense. I’m unsure if it will be a Cowboys-style video board like you see in Colorado, Tampa or Cleveland or if they’ll opt for a behemoth like in Detroit or New Jersey.
- Upper level ribbon board: It’s silly to me that there isn’t a full ribbon board wrapping around the 300 level. Finish that off, that should be a piece of cake.
- Gold Ring Sponsors on the Wall: Hanging sponsor banners from the rafters is sacrilege. There are massive walls above the 300 level which are perfect for displaying those sponsors. Stop embarrassing yourself by hanging a Labatt Blue banner in the rafters.
- Better 300 level access: Having only two escalators that fit two adults side-by-side feeding the entire 300 level is foolish. The elevators that serve the entire arena are overused as it is and the low volume escalators are a pain in the ass. I’ve heard from quite a few fans who want to see another escalator added on each side of the atrium a the very least.
- Safe Standing: I’ve been a proponent of exploring a soccer-style supporters section that would be supported by the organization in one way or another. A perfect way to enhance that type of thing would be to locate the group in a single section of the arena. Installing a safe standing section would further promote the rambunctious nature in the section which, ideally, would spread through the rest of the crowd
- Hot water in the bathrooms: Not sure how this is a problem in the 21st century but here we are.
- Other Concourse Features: Many arenas have taken to displaying high school jerseys in a portion of the building, the Sabres should absolutely be taking strides towards doing this. The backside of the 100 level, near the food court, would be a great spot. Also, the hat trick bin at Nationwide Arena is another cool feature I’d like the Sabres to copy. That would be fun to put in the 300 level since fans up there literally have zero cool things around their concourse besides concessions.