HARBORcenter continues to be attacked

Somedays Tim Tielman must feel pretty good about himself. You can’t blame him. Just imagine how cool it would be to have the ability to call up your lackey columnist at the local paper so that he can trumpet your “achievements” for the community to read.

That’s basically what Donn Esmonde’s column in today’s paper does. While the entire scope focuses on some of Esmonde’s viewpoints on HARBORcenter, it is riddled with little than a firm pat on the back to everyone’s favorite “urban designer”, Tim Tielman. (If Tim Tielman can be categorized as an urban planner, you can officially refer to me as a novelist. Because, you know, I write stuff. )

Portions of the column actually make strong claims in support and against HARBORcenter. In fact, Esmonde seems to understand how the project will serve as a regional draw and will ultimately service Canalside as a whole. However, bemoaning the addition of parking with the simultaneous elimination of a surface lot and introduction of an anchor project is perplexing. Continue reading

Reflections from the Basement Party: The Sabres and the Webster Block

With only a few days remaining until the City of Buffalo awards the winning bid to those who put in an RFP for the Webster Block, it seems as if the Buffalo Sabres are hoping for another off ice victory.

While Ted Black didn’t show his hand during yesterday’s New Media Summit, he certainly indicated that the Sabres do have a vested interest in the development of the area right outside their front door. After briefly discussing Terry Pegula’s $120,000 gift to complete the lawns at Canalside, Black pointed to the organization’s interest in potentially being involved in developing the Webster Block.

There have been plenty of rumors floating around the internet about what the Sabres may be doing down near the arena, but this certainly backs up what had originally been reported by the News and Business First. With the RFP slated to be announced on the 15th, I expect the Sabres will be holding their breath in hopes of having the winning bid.

Personally, I would imagine that Pegula’s donation was done as a first step of the Sabres’ full interest in that part of the neighborhood. I would imagine that the Sabres have to be the front runner for this RFP simply because I would imagine their proposed project would offer the most return for the neighborhood and city as a whole.

One other thing that was brought up by Black and the Sabres is their involvement in potentially earning the right to host NHL events like the Draft or an All-Star Game. He made a comment that not only pointed to their interest and influence (whether direct or indirect) in the area around the arena.

When addressing the Sabres’ interest in these special events, Black made an indirect reference to some comments made by Emerson Etem and European reporters who made disparaging comments about the city and the lack of activities. Black said that the team and city want to make sure they’re putting their best foot forward and leaving visitors with the best opinion of Buffalo possible. He then said that having a large construction pit right outside the arena would not be ideal, especially if an All-Star Game is on the way.

Based on the conversation with Black, the next possible All-Star Game the Sabres will make a run at will be in 2015, giving three more years for Canalside, the Webster Block and the Donovan Building to be built out and develop. From where I’m sitting Black and Pegula are fully aware of how difficult it is to get anything done by the water and they don’t want the same embarrassment that was suffered during the World Junior Tournament.

While the forum in which Black’s statements were given may not get the most publicity, they should certainly carry a lot of weight to those who make decisions in Buffalo. Continue reading

Buffalo Pipe Dream: The Webster Block and the Sabres

Part two of my Pipe Dream series will focus on the Webster Block and in what direction this prime piece of realty may go. Read part one on the Central Terminal here.

Just over a year ago it looked as if HSBC would bounce down Main Street to build a sparkling new office building across the street from the glass-faced Atrium. Weeks after that announcement the bank decided to go in the opposite direction, selling off local branches and consolidating a number of operations. That left the parcel of their potential development sitting empty once again.

Currently standing as a parking lot, the Webster Block blends nicely with the green fields and lawn chairs of Canalside, plus the Cobblestone Parking District that sit nearby. However, it seems as if Bryon Brown wants to fast track development on this prime piece of real estate.

Based on what I’ve read, the possibility for a multi-use facility run by the Buffalo Sabres is pretty exciting. I previously worked up an idea on a practice facility for the Sabres to be built in the Cobblestone District. With the alleged interest in the Webster Block, I’ll tweak my original plan to fit. My recent thoughts on this project go beyond just an arena capable of housing a junior team. I think a proper mixed-use development would serve the Sabres and city well.

Like George Costanza, I like to pretend I’m an architect but have no real skills in the field. So this may come off as completely backwards. Ideally, the arena would occupy the lower floors of the structure – possibly being built a story or two underground if necessary. The shops and restaurants would be on the second level, with access from ground floor entries and a skybridge with First Niagara Center. I’d also have a modest tower built on the corner of the lot fronting Scott St., nearest to the Donovan Building. Continue reading