A Stupid Solution to a Real Problem

The battle over what should occupy Buffalo’s waterfront has been roaring for the better part of two decades, as the early aughts brought us Bass Pro, an evolving vision for Canalside and eventually to where we are now. Which is, to say, not too far off from where we started.

Much of the progress we’ve seen has come in spite of the hucksters who weasel their way into any project of merit whose developer isn’t formidable enough to shoo them away. Other opportunities have been outright lost due to the pervasive obstructionists that seeps into much of the public discourse in the city. The Aud has been gone for over 10 years and we still have the empty pit to show for it.

That hasn’t kept Buffalo’s resident carnival barkers, the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, from concocting silly plans for projects he has no stake in. The group’s latest venture is a suspension bridge meant to connect the Inner and Outer Harbors. It’s a terrific idea until you see the route chosen by the group for their million-dollar deathtrap.

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The Great Northern Situation Lacks a Good Solution

Protracted preservation battles have become something of a cottage industry in these parts. In fact, you might just call it an industry for some.

The latest battle has centered around the Great Northern grain elevator after the building’s northern wall collapsed. The usual players have taken sides for and against demolition after it was announced Archer Daniels Midland planned to bring the building down.

News has been mostly good for those hoping to save the structure as they won another favorable ruling in court this week. Doug Jemal has also expressed interest in buying the structure in order to preserve it. What exactly his plans would be are unknown, but if there’s a developer in the area capable of actually saving the building, it would be Jemal.

Tim Tielman came out from under his bridge to get his obligatory quotes in The Buffalo News while other developers such as Rocco Termini and Paul Ciminelli have voiced their support in saving the structure. It’s a good sign for those who hope to keep the elevator intact that Jemal has shown the propensity to hit the ground running with projects he takes on. Something that the preservation community in Western New York has not done.

Whether or not that means the structure should be saved, I’m not sure. I think there are just as many good reasons to keep it as there are reasons to bring it down.

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Jemal Lands Mohawk Ramp, Adds to Momentum on Ellicott

Douglas Jemal and Douglas Development was selected to redevelop the Mohawk Parking Ramp earlier this week.

Photo: Buffalo Rising

It’s hardly a surprising decision given Jemal’s track record in the city. But it’s still comes with a sliver of disappointment, as we’ll be missing out on the plan pitched by Passero Associates, SAA EVI and McGuire Development. Their plan, which I wrote about here, felt like the best of the three finalists for the property. It was a unique plan that offered something of a big-city vibe. It would’ve added some height to that section of downtown and just generally looked really cool.

Designating Jemal as the developer of the Mohawk Ramp isn’t a bad thing, of course. The pace at which his projects move is warp speed when compared to other local developers. He’s proven that he has the skill and resources to make the Mohawk Ramp redevelopment and impressive addition to downtown.

Awarding the Mohawk Ramp to Jemal also creates synergy with his very impressive plans for the Simon Electric properties. Jemal was on record saying he was doing the Simon properties with or without the ramp, but if awarding him the ramp helps push the various phases of the Simon project forward, it will be a net win.

Perhaps the combine inertia of the two development plans will move up the phased development Jemal initially pitched for the Mohawk garage.

We’ve seen Jemal’s penchant for shifting plans to better fit his overall vision. Namely with the Seneca One redevelopment. Could we see him jump right to phase two of the phased development plans initially released for Huron and Ellicott Streets?

It’s refreshing to know that even if the most attractive development option wasn’t selected for a downtown parcel that we can have confidence in what’s to come. What Jemal’s plan may be lacking curb appeal will certainly be made up for in the time it takes to reach the finish line.

It’s also unfair of me to paint the Jemal project in such an unflattering light. The Douglas plan is a good one. The city was in a difficult spot as they were presented with a number of projects which were deserving of praise. The building that’s to replace the Mohawk Ramp may not have the vertical height as the others, but it’s still going to look great. The lead image on this Buffalo Risingpost shows the initial rendering for a building that will be at home in downtown Buffalo. At least in this image, the garage portion is obscured, the brick exterior fits the surrounding area and the street level retail and restaurants will be a welcome addition to that strip. If this looks even half as good as Douglas’ Brookland Press project in DC, it will be an excellent addition to downtown.

There’s even some expectation that the Gold Wynn will still seek to build the glass tower they pitched for the site. It would be unfair to assume that Passero, EVI SAA and McGuire would follow suit with their project, but it would certainly be a welcome and exciting decision. The wake of this decision could bring about more exciting projects that fill in some of the gaps downtown.

The momentum along Ellicott really puts the phrase of a rising tide lifting all boats to the test. We are too far away from upwards of seven newly renovated buildings coming on line along a strip of the city which already includes Big Ditch, Tappo and is just around the corner from the Theater District and Roosevelt Square.

It’s exciting news, even if the plan wasn’t my absolute favorite of the bunch.

Bills Stadium Saga Reaches Inevitable Conclusion

There really was never going to be much of a question over where the Bills new stadium was going to be built. While the conversation over a downtown or Orchard Park site was a valuable one to have, the die was cast when the Bills released their report indicating their preference to build in Orchard Park.

“Concerned” downtown developers can turn their attention to other causes now that Governor Hochul said the state will accept the Bills’ preferred site across Abbott Rd. in Orchard Park. The Pegulas held the hammer on this and barring extraordinary circumstances, the state and county were always going to play ball with regard to where they wanted to build (humorous as it may be considering they’re asking the public to pay for so much of this project).

Rendering by Populous, I think.

Maintaining the status quo in Orchard Park is a fine conclusion to this process. The Bills can continue to play next door to their training facilities and offices, the fans get to keep tailgating and the price tag will be slightly more palatable for all parties involved. A more streamlined construction schedule and lower land acquisition costs all add up as positive factors for a new stadium in Orchard Park.

The limitations of a suburban stadium will remain as well. Below average access and limited offseason uses being chief among them.

We certainly don’t lose anything with the construction of a new stadium in Orchard Park. But we don’t really gain anything either, and I think that’s the one lasting question I’ll have once the new building is finished. What, if anything, will we have missed by not building in the city? There are many, many issues at play, but there are a few overarching topics which probably needed more attention than they got.

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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.

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Ellicott Street at the Center of Two Incredible Projects

Development posts used to be far more frequent on this space in past years but I’ve lagged in my coverage as other responsibilities took precedence over complaining about the hole at Canalside, for example.

But in an effort to commit to providing insight and attention to the various projects happening around the city, I’m going to try and get back in the saddle of writing about Buffalo development. Plenty has gone on in the last few months and I’ll have to work to catch up on the latest in the Skyway debate, Douglas Jemal’s continued work in the city and the decades long development of Canalside.

Photo: Buffalo Rising/Douglas Development

This week saw progress with the City’s efforts to redevelop the Mohawk Ramp that sits between Washington and Ellicott streets. All six proposals initially submitted were quite impressive and the proposal that may have been the sexiest of the group didn’t even make it as a finalist. That the Wynn Group is still aiming to build that glass tower elsewhere in the city is exciting news in its own right.

I’d imagine that the proposal from Douglas Development has first position as the city evaluates the three finalists. Jemal’s track record since he arrived has been nothing short of astonishing and he’s worked on timelines which would have been unheard of in the past. The partnership he has with the city and his willingness to go fast on projects has to give him a leg up on this process. He’s also slated to redevelop the Simon Electric properties right down the block. So I won’t be surprised if he’s the winner here.

The thing is that Douglas Development probably shouldn’t win this bid. Douglas’ overall proposal for Ellicott street is tremendous. As a sucker for renderings, their proposal for that space has me over the moon for what that project can mean for this stretch of Ellicott and Huron.

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The Athletic Arena Ranking Survey – How I Answered

In the days before COVID was part of our vocabulary, renovating KeyBank Center (and Bills Stadium to boot) was a popular topic of conversation. There were plenty of column inches, Tweets and news segments devoted to the growing need for renovations at both of

Renovating Buffalo’s major league venues is hardly a new topic. In the time before COVID became part of our daily vocabulary, it wasn’t a question of if but when KeyBank Center and Bills Stadium would see improvements.

Pegula Sports hired CAA ICON in November of 2018 to assist in determining the next steps for both the stadium and arena. Fan surveys were distributed and I can only guess were used to help gauge the appetite certain changes might bring about.

All of this has naturally been put on hold with the pandemic keeping fans out of both venues for the better part of a year. Exactly when the Pegulas and Erie County will be ready for any sort of significant project is hard to peg given the lack of revenue typically generated by ticket sales, concessions, merchandise and everything that typically comes with a season help under normal operating procedures.

Bills Stadium is a larger project to fathom due to the external forces pushing for a new stadium for the football team. We’ve heard that the Bills need to play catch up with the league for a long time now and exactly how the Pegulas, the County and all of the other stakeholders navigate that situation will be worth tracking. It seems as if everything remains on the table. Whether a massive renovation of the existing structure, a new stadium in Orchard Park or downtown. The project will be generational, no matter which version the stakeholders land on in the end.

By comparison, KeyBank Center won’t be nearly as daunting for the Pegulas to handle. The price tag will still be massive, especially if they opt for a truly in-depth renovation, but they’re not angling for a new building so the cost will be relatively affordable. There’s no question the arena is in need of some upgrades. It wasn’t built with many bells and whistles to begin with and the lack of those amenities have sped up the aging process as a result.

All of this was in the back of my mind as I went through the arena rankings survey on The Athletic today. I have my answers to their questions below with some of the rationale behind it. Continue reading

KeyBank Center Upgrades Wishlist

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.

This area could use a makeover.

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. Continue reading

Tielman’s Plans Have No Place in Canalside

The Canalside life cycle is an interesting animal. Once a windswept parking lot, it has grown to one of the most impressive attractions in Western New York as it inches towards completion. Yet, despite all of the positive momentum, the overall project remains beset by hiccups and delays.

Among the most glaring is the utter lack of permanent development outside of One Canalside (which was already there) and HarborCenter (handled by the city and the Pegulas). The historically aligned, replica canals are a visual marvel but the rest of the area is lagging behind. Make no mistake, the progress that has been made at Canalside is nothing short of impressive as there are signs of truly great things on the horizon. The warts are still quite visible, however.

Just today, The Buffalo News indicated that if an expected 2017 groundbreaking for Hofbrauhaus on the East Canal Parcel isn’t met that the German beer haus would move to the Cobblestone District. That’s certainly a win for the Parking Cobblestone District; it’s also a blow for Canalside. Filling the parcel between HarborCenter and One Canalside would add even more density to the already bustling corner while providing a new brick-and-mortar attraction for Canalside visitors to frequent with mixed use space on the second and third floors. By failing to move the underground utility lines, the city and ECHDC have let a key development parcel sit fallow while leaving Hofbrauhaus in a three-year holding pattern. Continue reading

2ITB Buffalo Rink Rankings

You don’t need to drive far in Western New York to find a hockey rink. Nearly every large municipality has one and those that don’t are neighbored by at least one or two. As a city with such a rich hockey history there are a number of new and old rinks around Greater Buffalo.

In an attempt to provide insight on all of Buffalo’s rinks, we took it upon ourselves to create the Buffalo Rink Rankings. The below list was compiled using a set of categories to help evaluate and score each rink. The scores were compiled using the feedback of a number of hockey players from around WNY, in an attempt to eliminate any bias that may exist. Each category is scored on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest. There are two groups of rankings, one set that focuses on the hockey-specific aspect of each facility (rink quality, locker rooms etc.) and another that focuses on amenities (pro shop, snack bar etc.). These all add up to provide and overall score for each facility, which was a primary factor in the final rankings.

The overall score wasn’t the only factor considered when factoring the final rankings (we’re kind of like the BCS) as some rinks scored higher thanks to certain amenities or outside factors. So in some cases a rink that scored lower still slotted in above higher scoring rinks as we tried to keep the primary focus on the hockey side of things while also giving credit to rinks, like Riverworks, which boast really cool features that don’t directly correlate to the hockey side of things.

So, without further adieu, here are the 2ITB Buffalo Rink Rankings: Continue reading