Big news regarding Canalside development for downtown Buffalo will be announced in the very near future. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and his legislation have used the better part of the summer reviewing the information and even delaying the initial deadline in early August to finally make a decision on the rights to develop the Webster Block – currently a 300-car parking lot sitting directly across from the First Niagara Center.
The decision will mark an end to a contentious battle amongst several local heavyweights for the prized property. Back in July 2010, HSBC Bank began to express interest in expanding its current presence to the Webster Block for a brand new regional headquarters. In the months that followed, however, discussions would sour between HSBC and the City of Buffalo to the point where the global bank decided to ‘globally restructure’ and completely scrap plans a year later and sell half of their local branches to First Niagara. (ouch) Needless to say, since then relations between the two parties became challenging at best.
Fortunately, as the old saying goes - when one door closes, another is inevitably opened. Byron Brown soon began to look forward and search for new development opportunities at the Webster Block.
Speeding ahead to today, the city (and the public) has been presented with two new different development plans with very different philosophies. Notable local real-estate mogul Carl Paladino’s group is presenting a mixed-use development facility that includes a 140-room hotel, over 40 high-end apartments, office space, and retail opportunities. Perhaps the most important factor in Paladino’s plan is the fact it’s approximately half the cost of their competitor’s plan, being the Buffalo Sabres. Compared to Paladino’s svelte $64 million project, Terry Pegula and Co. have constructed a plan that involves building two new ice rinks, additional athletic facilities, a 200-room hotel, and additional retail opportunities at the whopping cost of $123 million.
The upcoming decision between Paladino and the Sabres could very well go down as a summation of the past and present mindsets of the city. There has been a long-standing influx of inactivity and selling ourselves short as a city for a long time and in my eyes the Paladino plan is exactly that. Apartments? Office Space? There are always other developments coming down the pipeline for apartments nearby and there’s also a half vacant HSBC tower sitting right down the road from where they want to build more office space – do we really need more of the same type of development?
The Sabres plan, albeit much more costly, is a message to outsiders that Buffalo is serious about its growth along the waterfront. The two new ice rinks could serve multiple purposes; 1) the potential for the city to host reputable hockey/winter events and be able to put a roof over visitors’ heads without having to drive to Cheektowaga, 2) the development of either a new Division I hockey program in the region from the University at Buffalo or an established home rink for Canisius College's D1 program, (that’s mostly speculative, I know) or generally 3) the creation of a ‘hockey hub’ as I’ll call it. By the Sabres physically expanding their outreach, the concept of ‘Hockey Heaven’ is optimized – the overall experience of heading downtown is heightened. We’ve already begun to have a taste of the ‘Hockey Heaven’ concept with the creation of Alumni Plaza on the side of the FNC, why not make a statement and believe in a project that will really bring in visitors and legitimize a Pegula legacy at the foot of Washington Street?