Calling Cobblestone: Take some hints from the Distillery District

One of the most under-utilized neighborhoods in the city is the Cobblestone District. Hampered by the pair of massive arena lots that occupy two of the blocks that make up the area, the District itself is little more than on square block of densely packed buildings.

Once before, I explored some ideas for the Cobblestone District and it was on a relatively big scale. Rather than recycle thoughts from that post, I want to explore how to duplicate the Distillery District in Toronto in the existing structure of the Cobblestone District.

The view of the boarded smith shop (right) and other properties in Cobblestone that are ripe for development.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Distillery District, it is basically a pedestrian-centric neighborhood that occupies a very well-preserved whiskey distillery in Toronto. It is located a short drive from the proper city center and has an interesting mix of gallery space, boutiques and restaurants. The pedestrian-first design is quite popular thanks to the size of Toronto and nearby residential space. In fact, there are a pair of modern, high-rise residential (and mixed-use hotel) developments currently being built in the area. Once those projects are complete, the District will be a historic neighborhood with an industrial feel that serves a number of large populations driven from the new builds in addition to others coming from downtown.

What is truly brilliant about the Distillery District is not only the historical integrity that has been upheld in the core portion of the neighborhood, but the willingness to allow contemporary additions to be made to the area. In fact, a number of the new builds have taken facades and other pieces from former buildings that previously occupied specific locations. To specify (see pictures), this isn’t an adaptive re-use, but a new building basically constructed with some of the bones and skin from the older buildings included. Surely ideas as progressive as this would make such preservation fore-runners like Tim Tielman soil their trousers. Continue reading

Change to Canalside parcel strips potential development, Because it’s Buffalo

More public green space and less room for commercial development; that’s exactly what Buffalo’s central waterfront development project needs.

Business First ran a storyabout a pair of changes that will be made to a parcel of Canalside property in the next 12 months that will significantly alter the density and urban feel to the area. The change will also make a significant alteration to something that so many preservationists fought so hard for.

The canal and parcel on the left side of this photo have been drastically altered by the ECHDC.

The portion of the Donovan Building property that fronts Scott St. between Washington and Main was originally supposed to be the home for a low-rise strip of development with a canal roped between One Canalside (Donovan Building) and the “south block” as it is called.

The ECHDC has now decided that property is better suited to serve as additional green space with shady areas to sit. What about the canal? That will now turn into a reflecting pool – which is pretty much what the re-routed canals are anyway thanks to the Hamburg Drain.

To review, the ECHDC has deemed that a parcel of potential retail and commercial development replete with a canal just outside of the building will be better off as a lawn with a pool of water that will likely be shallower than what the foot-and-a-half canals will already be.

Canalside was enjoying plenty of positive momentum thanks to a year of actual development announcements and the commencement of other projects. Between the construction on the canals, One Canalside being in full swing and the announcement of HARBORcenter, Canalside was not only becoming a central location for serious development but was gaining the critical mass that the region has been waiting for since the first master plan was unveiled for the area. Continue reading

With projects underway, time to clean up small features of Canalside

Since the grain elevators are now expecting a slight makeover, what comes next for the waterfront? Considering the projects that are already in progress there is a somewhat vacant hole as to what the next project may be.

With the faux historic canal construction in full swing, along with the Webster Block and One Canalside building projects, the inner harbor is nearly at full capacity regarding the projects that are underway. For Canalside, the only area that remains untouched, to this point, are the “functional” lawns that can be sold as parcels to interested developers. Continue reading

Sabres Harbor Center chosen for the Webster Block

It is official. The development team led by Terry Pegula and the Buffalo Sabres has been selected to develop the Webster Block.

Work can now begin on the HARBORcenter project that won the bid process for the Sabres’ group. When finished, the building will include parking, a hotel, two ice rinks along with retail and restaurant space. Their official proposal tabbed March as the start of construction, which is the date the Sabres will stick with.

News reports indicate that the restaurant, retail, ice rinks and parking will be ready for the start of the 2014-15 season with the hotel to follow shortly after. With the ground breaking set for March, I would anticipate that significant process will be occurring late in the summer of 2013.

Coupled with the progress on One Canalside (Donovan Building), the faux canals and the rest of the Aud Block, the Canalside footprint will suddenly be awash with construction projects. For a district that stayed afloat on renderings and proposals, this is a breath of fresh air.

The choice of the HARBORcenter over and Carl Paladino’s proposal likely came down to the office component that was part of the Paladino project. With the HSBC tower set to be largely vacated, there was no need for over 100,000 square feet of new office space so close to what is soon to be a vacant tower. In addition, the year-round draw that will come from the ice rink component makes HARBORcenter an extremely viable project.

In addition, the inclusion of Tim Horton’s and New Era as retail partners in the HARBORcenter plans showed that the retail component is going to have an immediate impact. Hearing the word “destination” attached to the Tim Horton’s location is particularly intriguing. I know one source pointed to this as potentially being built as the world’s largest Tim Horton’s.

One thing that should be noted is that this project was kept out of the hands of ECHDC. Byron Brown wanted to keep this as a city parcel and fast track the development and did just thatNot to denigrate the work that has been done by ECHDC at Canalside, but that project has has run into its fair share of snags, holdups and setbacks over the past few years. So much so that all that can be shown for the development of Canalside are a few plush lawns and some colorful chairs. Even one of the lawns came courtesy of Terry Pegula.

Before Donn Esmonde takes the time to credit the slower, dumber, cheaper approach that is being taken at Canalside, realize that lawn chairs have nothing to do with this project. This was a parcel that was identified as prime for major development and the city didn’t settle for anything less. So, if you see some form of rhetoric touting the Adirondack chairs and their influence on this project, realize it is bull crap.

What should be pointed out is that the relationship that HARBORcenter and Canalside will have is definitely going to be give and take. Canalside, while devoid of permanent attractions and activities, draws massive crowds every summer. Once the compressors are active in the canals, it will be a year-round destination. The throngs of people that frequent Canalside will be happy to find accessible parking and real, sit down food options at HARBORcenter. On the other hand, those planning on heading to HARBORcenter for hockey or a meal will be lucky enough to stroll down to the waterfront and take in everything that Canalside has become.

Adding Tim Horton’s and New Era brings the first real private retailers to Canalside’s doorstep along with a full-scale sit down restaurant. Add in the restaurant space at One Canalside and there will be a trio of restaurants (Liberty Hound) just outside of FNC set to serve fans and participants of youth or adult hockey games. Then, of course, there are the hotel patrons that will be staying in either HARBORcenter or One Canalside.

These hotel rooms will serve out-of-town travelers, hockey families and a number of other directly in the heart of downtown near what is now becoming one of the more exciting areas of the city.

There is a ton of positive momentum building at Canalside. Some of it has come from the ancillary installations that have been put in in lieu of any concrete development over the past five years. However, today’s announcement welcomes a second full-scale piece of development that will serve as a true cornerstone for the district.

Choosing HARBORcenter may have been a difficult decision to come to, but it most certainly was the right conclusion to reach.

Webster Block proposals on the table

Both Carl Paladino and the Buffalo Sabres bid for the Webster Block are now open to the public. Both on the City of Buffalo website and The Buffalo News.

Courtesy: The Buffalo News

Paladino released renderings of his plans early in the process in what was likely a play for some positive PR from anyone keeping track of the project. The Sabres proposal, called the Harbor Center, was expected to be impressive and upon a cursory reading of their proposal, it is.

According to documents attached to the news story, Harbor Center will combine a pair of ice rinks on the lower roof of the building and a 200 room hotel facing the lake which looks to take up somewhere north of seven or eight floors.

The rink layout is staggered along the length of the building, as is the hotel. Other details that stood out is the apparent layout of where the restaurant and retail locations would be located. The Harbor Center has a very Torontonian feel to it for some reason. When everything is finished between the Donovan Building and Webster Block, the density and design concepts in that neighborhood will be very impressive. Continue reading