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Construction on the Buffalo Sabres’ planned HarborCenter complex is “right on schedule” for a September 2014 opening for the rinks, restaurant and parking ramp, as the work crew shifts from driving piles into the ground to pouring concrete pillars, HarborCenter President John R. Koelmel said.

He described the work site as a “beehive of activity.”

“Our excitement is all the more real and visible as we’re able to watch the building take shape each and every day,” he said.

About 80 workers are on the site now, with another 20 expected to join the workforce next week. Cliff Benson, the Sabres’ chief development officer, who is overseeing the construction work, said the growing number of workers is an indication that “we’re serious about moving this on schedule.”

And because 98 percent of the workers are local, the economic benefit from the project’s activity is having a significant impact on the Buffalo Niagara economy, he added.

So far, about 1,000 piles – equal to 40,000 linear feet or 7.5 miles – have been driven into the ground to support the structure, and concrete pillars are going up in preparation for building the deck that will support the parking levels, two sheets of ice and the hotel. Crews had to move 35,000 cubic feet of dirt, and underground plumbing, electrical and other utility work now is under way.

“This is a very complex project to put on this small of a space in this area, given the wind and everything else,” Benson said. “We had a lot of dirt to move out of here. That was an enormous effort. We had a lot of major cables that went under this site. We had to move all of that around, and then creating a stable base was a real challenge.”

Finally, the second of two bright yellow tower cranes is being erected, reaching 300 feet into the air – higher than the first and almost 100 feet above the top of the hotel and overall facility, at 19 stories.

“It’s going to be a big building when we get done,” Benson said. “We want to make a statement with this. When people are driving by on the 190, we want them to say, ‘Wow.’ ”

Announced a year ago, HarborCenter will be anchored by a pair of NHL-sized ice rinks that will be available for college hockey, amateur tournaments and community use. It will also house a hockey “center of excellence” for fitness and training to foster the growth of hockey locally.

Wednesday, officials announced that the planned 205-room full-service hotel in the facility will be flagged as a Marriott, bringing the flagship upscale brand of Marriott International to downtown Buffalo for the first time.

Additionally, the facility will also include a two-story, hockey-themed upscale restaurant and bar, plus street-level retail space and an 850-space parking ramp.

Plans call for year-round programming to “create a steady flow and take the seasonality out of it,” bringing teams and athletes from around the country and Canada, while also serving business travelers and tourists coming to Buffalo, Koelmel said.

Located on the former Webster Block, the facility will be linked by a sky bridge to First Niagara Center, making the entire complex the only three-rink operation in the National Hockey League.

The Sabres say the facility – which is funded by Sabres owner Terry Pegula with help from nearly $37 million in tax breaks through the Erie County Industrial Development Agency – is expected to draw more than 500,000 people to downtown Buffalo every year and will contribute to the overall development at Canalside.

email: jepstein@buffnews.com