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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 →
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.
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 →
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 →