Pegulas and Savarino Should Combine to Bring Sky Bridge Back to DL&W Project

Enduring a years-long process of redesigns, stops and starts seems to be a rite of passage for virtually every project in and around Buffalo’s waterfront. It’s not different for the DL&W train shed as the NFTA and various stakeholders push to redevelop the building into something that can better complement the Cobblestone District and Canalside.

Photo: Buffalo Rising

You can go back at least to 2009 to find references to the DL&W becoming a more integral part of the waterfront entertainment district. Much like the pit at the North Aud Block, or the hockey team across the street, not much has been done in the ensuing 12 years.

The DL&W project has hit for the proverbial Buffalo development cycle. There have been multiple sets of renderings, the Project for Public Spaces has gotten involved and Tim Tielman has even managed to get his name in the coverage at various stages. All of this without any serious work moving forward.

There has been progress, of course. The new NFTA station on the first floor is under construction. While continuous rounds of renderings can be silly, a project plan under the guidance of Sam Savarino is coming together and it appears this project has reached a critical mass. It’s all very exciting as the building’s unique layout and location makes it an incredible asset for Buffalo’s waterfront.

Massive windows look out onto the Buffalo River, which is teeming with activity in warmer months. A somewhat newer development is the mention of skylights throughout the second floor of the complex, a feature which will surely add to the end product on the upper level of the complex. The proximity to Canalside and Cobblestone as a whole means the new terminus for Buffalo’s light rail will put riders right in the heart of this growing district while the development of the second floor will add yet another feature for visitors of the area to enjoy.

It also happens to be across the street from the back side of KeyBank Center, a factor which previous renderings and plans took into account by calling for a walkway to connect the new terminal and the arena. In theory, it would allow fans to park and ride from games with fewer layers to brave the cold of Buffalo winters. Even if jacketless travel isn’t a realistic option, directly connecting the light rail stop to the arena is a luxury that hasn’t existed since the building opened (initial plans for the arena called for a full covered station in the building but that was scrapped pretty early on in the process in lieu of the scaled down special events station).

What you may notice is that the more recent and updated plans for the project have eliminated the bridge connection to KeyBank Center, a feature which is small when considering the mammoth undertaking that rehabilitating the building will be. But it’s a disappointing nonetheless as creating that added connection would just be a benefit for those going to arena but would offer the opportunity to funnel people from the arena to the new development on the second floor.

Losing the bridge probably does more harm to arena goers than anything else. The second floor plans are still somewhat nebulous, but if there is to be some sort of market or food court in that space, keeping the connection to the arena and funneling all train riders through that space before a concert or a game is a no brainer.

I’d be curious to know how Pegula Sports and Entertainment views this omission as you’d hope they would be welcoming this option with open arms. This may not jive with maintaining the lifestyle of the Pegula family, but PSE should be leaping at the opportunity to chip in and keep the bridge as a feature of the new station and DL&W construction.

From the Sabres perspective, they aren’t dealing with a crush of people entering through the atrium on any given night (especially this year). Perhaps the best feature of the atrium is that it’s size allows for thousands of people to come through in a short period of time with little to no issue. However, creating a true alternative for exiting the building would still make for better traffic flow both before and after games. It creates the opportunity for a better fan experience, not only thanks to the potential for dressing a bit lighter on cold nights, but creating a bit more elbow room for arriving and departing fans.

It’s important to remember that the special events station is going to be demolished as the DL&W plans proceed. This is happening no matter what and removing the bridge from the new station will make taking the train to the arena more of a hassle. The walk around the back of the arena or from the Canalside station isn’t very long, but it won’t be enjoyable on cold days. Offer people taking the train the option to walk across an enclosed bridge to KeyBank Center and all your troubles are solved, cold weather or not. The Sabres have made some bizarre fan engagement decisions lately but it would be amazing if they overlooked a very obvious solution and benefit for their paying customers.

The added benefit here is that you don’t even lose the potential retail or concessions sales by not pushing light rail riders through the atrium. A walkway from the DL&W would drop fans right at the food court along the back of the 100 level where there are plentiful options for food and drink along with a very nice Sabres store location. This could also function as a first step toward creating more space in the 100 level concourse, something that’s almost certainly going to be on their to-do list when they get around to renovating the arena.

It hasn’t been the best few years for PSE in terms of the public eye. For a company, and owners, who have been lauded for what they’ve done for the area, this should be a layup of a project to chip in on. It offers a direct benefit to multiple PSE properties and the area as a whole.

With or without the sky bridge, the DL&W renovations will be a net win for the area. It’s an incredible structure and the Cobblestone District (and Canalside) desperately needs more things to do. It would be unfortunate if the Pegulas, Savarino and the NFTA don’t find a way to reincorporate the walkway into this project but either way the waterfront will be better for the improvements.

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