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

Brian Higgins and Canalside: Still Waiting on Action

At some point in the past I joked that I’d have kids by the time Canalside was developed. Somehow that joke turned out to be a bit more prophetic than I’d planned.

It’s no secret that Canalside is being developed at a snail’s pace. The waterfront gem that draws thousands each summer hasn’t seen any tangible additions since the historically aligned canals opened two years ago – completing a construction schedule riddled with delays. Now, with a child of my own, I’m left to find a new joke to make about the progress at Canalside.

Congressman Brian Higgins recently spoke out against ECHDC for their relative inaction in fulfilling the development portion of their mission. Ironically, that’s what the D in ECHDC stands for. Higgins’ comments came in a Buffalo News article on September 10 which I should have addressed in this space earlier, but I’ve been following an ECHDC schedule in getting posts up as of late.

I thought it best to offer up an FJM, of sorts, as it pertains to the article in question as it came just prior to the shutdown of the Buffalo Amtrak station and new questions about relocating the station to an area within Canalside. So, what is to follow is less an FJM and more a running commentary on Higgins’ comments and the general outlook for Canalside as we near the end of another summer enjoying the waterfront destination.

(The original article will be bolded) Continue reading

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. Continue reading

More Thoughts on the World Juniors

Waiting two full years for the World Juniors to arrive at our door once again will certainly test the patience of Western New York’s hockey fans.

The build up to the tournament will certainly bring plenty of cries about #OneBuffalo, #Buffalove and the like. What I hope to see more of is chatter and planning over activities surrounding the tournament.

The NHL Fan Fair from All Star weekend. A simply copy/paste of this in the Convention Center could certainly be a nice addition to the 2018 festivities.

Downtown Buffalo is a much different place today than it was in 2011 and I hope to see it change even more before the start of the 2018 tournament. But outside of big development projects, I’m hoping the city adopts an Olympic-type vibe for the 2018 tourney. I’m thinking of various activities and attractions around town. Pulling inspiration from All Star weekend or the non-event attractions many Olympic cities utilize. Continue reading

World Juniors can Serve as a Catalyst for Downtown

The countdown to the 2018 World Junior Championships in on. We’re just about two years away, on the nose, from the start of the tournament which will culminate in early January 2018.

That’s two full years before the eyes of (most of) the hockey world are directed on Buffalo. Two years to plan and two years to prepare the city.

Based on Buffalo’s previous run as a host in 2011 and subsequent USA Hockey and IIHF events hosted in Buffalo, it’s clear that the Sabres organization has their ducks in a row when it comes to hosting international events. I have little doubt that the efforts made by the Sabres will eclipse the work that made the 2011 tournament a success.

While every ticket at the 2011 event wasn’t sold – in fact there were many Team USA games with open sections of seats – I don’t think it’s a stretch to expect a better turnout for 2018. That’s without taking the planned outdoor game into account. Western New York’s hockey culture continues to grow and if the participants are sold the right way I’d expect to see fans turn out well. One of the many goals that needs to be met by the 2018 WJC

The biggest area of opportunity, in my opinion, is how the players, media and fans who are converging on Buffalo will feel about the city. Two of the more infamous moments of the 2011 tournament were the criticisms leveled by European journalists and Emerson Etem of Team USA. Etem’s comments on the city brought boos from the home crowd whenever he touched the puck in following games. Having home fans boo one of Team USA’s own was terrific.

Obviously the city and region have grown quite a bit in the past five years. The improvements will certainly reflect well upon new and return visitors. However, there’s so much positive energy downtown that the World Junior tournament could serve as the catalyst to wrap up some of the most promising projects in the city. Continue reading