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The Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday came out the winner of an intense development competition and pledged to add energy to the city's waterfront.
"Because this is our front door, we will do our best to make sure it's a world-class destination," said Sabres President Ted Black during a news conference in the office of Mayor Byron W. Brown.
Brown and his administration chose the Sabres' hockey-themed plan over one put forward by developer Carl P. Paladino to remake a 1.7-acre surface parking lot known as the Webster Block just north of First Niagara Center.
HARBORcenter Development LLC is planning two ice rinks, a hotel and parking structure, and is in talks to include a New Era Cap Co. flagship store and a "destination" Tim Hortons restaurant.
The new development will connect through an elevated walkway to First Niagara Center, making the three-rink complex the first of its kind in the National Hockey League, Black said.
Sabres officials stressed that they want to make the parcel, which sits next to their headquarters, a welcoming, attractive place for visitors.
"We will not be an absentee landlord," Black said. "We will do right by this city. We will do right by our fans."
Sabres officials said they wanted to build off the energy at Canalside, which has drawn impressive crowds this summer through its concerts and other attractions.
"We think this will be the catalyst for more folks to come down," said Cliff Benson, the Sabres chief development officer.
The venue is expected to draw 500,000 new visitors downtown annually.
Brown said that both development teams were professional and put forth appealing proposals, but several factors went into his decision to select the Sabres. He wasn't specific but said the hockey club's proposal has a "wow" factor.
Paladino was disappointed but said the city was fair and had to make a "subjective" call.
"Obviously, the immediate emotion is, 'What could we have done wrong?'?" Paladino said. "That's a subjective call, and that's OK."
The Sabres' project, led by team owner Terry Pegula, and his wife, Kim, is estimated to cost $123 million, and is planned to be a year-round destination for local and tournament skaters. It will include a 965-space parking lot, a 200-room hotel, a sports bar and retail space.
The Tim Hortons restaurant will be different from others in the region, Sabres officials said. It will honor the company's namesake, who last played for the Sabres, and will celebrate Sabres' history.
A New Era store, if it is built, will not replace the store in the company's headquarters on Delaware Avenue, said company spokeswoman Dana Marciniak.
The Sabres will pay the city $2 million for the parcel, and city residents will be sought for post-construction jobs. Local labor will be used for construction. Employees of the ice rink and parking ramp also will be paid a living wage, Brown said.
The city will cap permitting and fees at $500,000.
The Sabres are expected to seek a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, which abates local property taxes, and state brownfield tax credits.
Brown said he did not expect the city to provide additional financial assistance for the project, which Sabres spokesman Michael M. Gilbert confirmed.
"I think with the investment the Sabres and the Pegula family are graciously putting into Buffalo, this puts Buffalo on the map for new reasons," said the Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, the Ellicott District member of the Common Council who represented clergy members on the project's community advisory committee.
The final design of the project is not complete, and the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on what the exterior of the development should look like through a public charette process, which the city negotiated with the Sabres.
A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for March 1, and the rinks and parking ramps are expected to be completed by September 2014, with the hotel opening in May 2015.
The ice rinks need to be booked at least six months in advance, so the timeline is aggressive, Benson said.
In some ways the competing proposals were similar, and in some, they were very different.
Both called for a hotel, restaurant and a parking structure, but Pegula's intends to draw visitors year round. Paladino's called for high-end apartments and office space.
The prices were also wildly different - Pegula's was nearly twice as much as Paladino's, which would have cost $63 million.
Members of the Brown administration, which was solely responsible for picking the winner, during the selection process seemed excited by the possibility of bringing new office workers downtown.
Paladino said he had a company that was ready to relocate from the suburbs, bringing 500 jobs downtown and creating another 250 jobs.
He declined to name the potential tenant, but said the city was aware of it. Another 150 jobs would have been created in development's other operations.
The Sabres' project will create 1,200 direct construction jobs, 1,300 indirect construction jobs, 350 permanent full-time and 100 permanent part-time jobs.
Paladino questioned the wisdom of putting ice rinks on top of a parking ramp, an idea the Sabres got from a suburban complex operated by the Washington Capitals.
"I have the greatest respect for the Sabres," he said. "Basically, they're making a huge gift to the community with the ice rinks, but they could have done it much easier."
Administration officials also seemed impressed with the development team the Sabres had assembled, which includes Mortenson Construction, ICON Venue Group, and Populous, an internationally known architect of major sports venues.
HARBORcenter also is in talks with Benderson Development to develop some of the project.
Brown issued a request for proposals for the Webster Block last April and received responses in June.

email: jterreri@buffnews.com