The plan by the Buffalo Sabres to significantly upgrade the team’s proposed hockey destination on the waterfront is worthy of support and the tax incentives being requested.
In a recent News article, the team made clear that HARBORcenter – two indoor ice rinks, a hotel, parking ramp and restaurant on the Webster Block parking lot north of the Sabres’ First Niagara Center home – is intended to draw participants from the region and beyond to a hockey “center of excellence.”
The new rinks will comply with National Hockey League standards. The expectation that HARBORcenter will become the new home for the Junior Sabres and a Division I hockey team, likely Canisius College, sounds like a winner. The facility will draw not only hockey and figure skating enthusiasts, professional and amateur, but also will be available for city schoolchildren and local organizations.
This is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that will benefit downtown and add value to Erie Canal Harbor. But it comes with a hefty price tag.
In unveiling the latest plans, Sabres officials said the entire complex will cost about $170 million, nearly 40 percent more than the $123 million that was referenced in the agreement filed with the Buffalo Common Council last week.
Sabres owner Terry Pegula is spending quite a bit of his own money on the project. Still, the fact that project sponsors are seeking sales, mortgage and partial property tax credits from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, valued at about $27 million, and additional tax credits related to cleaning up the site through the state’s brownfield program, should be no surprise.
Given the jobs it will create and the outside dollars it will attract, the approval of the project by the ECIDA’s policy committee on Monday was the right call. The full board will vote next Tuesday and should add its approval. The Common Council will hold a public hearing on the sale of the Webster Block to HARBORcenter for $2.2 million next Tuesday.
Objections that have been raised to the project involve traffic congestion and the building’s architectural style. However, among the points to be considered is the 845-space parking ramp that will be available for use by guests of One Canalside (the former Donovan State Office Building), and by employees of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, who will also be able to park there and ride Metro Rail to work. The ramp will also provide a convenient parking place for visitors to Erie Canal Harbor.
And while the building is not in step with the Erie Canal theme on the waterfront, it will fit in with its neighbors, First Niagara Center, the HSBC Atrium and One Canalside.
This is the kind of project that has been too rare in Buffalo. It involves a significant investment of private money, it has definite benefits for this community and it should draw visitors (and their money) from outside the region.