Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula on Monday said he hoped a new hockey-themed development on the waterfront will help inspire a new generation of skaters.
"It will get people in the area energized, more kids will play hockey, hopefully," Pegula said. "More ice surface. You won't have to get up at 4 in the morning to play, you'll get up at 6."
Pegula and Mayor Byron W. Brown talked about the $123 million planned transformation of a parking lot next to the Sabres' headquarters into something unique to the National Hockey League. Two new rinks will connect through a sky bridge to the First Niagara Center, creating a three-rink complex that would draw young hockey players and other skaters downtown year-round.
A Sabres-affiliated company, HARBORcenter Development, won a bid to purchase and build on the Webster Block, which was announced two weeks ago. Pegula couldn't make the announcement because he was watching his daughter, Jessica, play doubles in the U.S. Open.
But on Monday, Pegula, a former oil and natural gas executive who purchased the Sabres in February 2011, talked about his vision for Buffalo, and said he took inspiration from Pittsburgh.
"I've seen what you call a blueprint for what we're doing and what Buffalo is trying to do here at Canalside and at the harbor," Pegula said. "When I first went to Pittsburgh in the early '70s, it was a dingy steel town and through their sports teams and through a lot of hard work and dedication by people like the mayor and the citizens, they transformed the image of the city. I've seen it happen. Maybe I'm dating myself now, but just 'cause this is Buffalo doesn't mean it can't happen here, too."
He credited Sabres President Ted Black and Chief Development Director Cliff Benson for coming up with the concept of the development, which also includes a hotel, parking garage, restaurant and retail space.
"We always use the term 'a destination to play hockey' for the Buffalo area, so, obviously this is going to add to the quote "aura" of coming here to play if you're a professional player," he said.
City officials said the development is on track for a March 1 groundbreaking, as representatives from the city and the Sabres held their first project meeting on Friday. An appraisal for the parking lot is in the works, and the purchase price won't exceed $2 million, according to a signed agreement between the city and the Sabres.
The parking garage, rinks, restaurant and retail space are expected to be ready by September 2014, and the hotel is scheduled to be finished by spring 2015.
"One of my first conversations with Mr. Pegula after he first purchased the Sabres was his desire to do something special for this community," said Brown, speaking from a corner of the parking lot known as the Webster Block. "Not just to purchase the hockey team that he has loved for all of his time as a fan of hockey but also to do something really special to help build and grow Buffalo and Western New York. Well this is certainly something special to help build and grow Western New York."
The development agreement notes that reasonable efforts will be made to use at least 15 percent of the ice time for a combination of public skating and community events, including youth hockey.
Canisius College, which uses the rink at Buffalo State College, has talked to the Sabres about the new development, though a Canisius official said more details are needed.
"We have had some preliminary discussions with the Sabres in the course of their planning for this," said Athletic Director Bill Maher.
One of the new rinks will have seating for 1,800, the same capacity as the Buffalo State sports arena.
Pegula has been thinking about how construction will impact Sabres fans.
"Our plans are to move forward," he said. "I don't know exactly how we minimize the impact while we're doing the construction. I've thought about that quite a bit, if we're going to have fans down here and be playing hockey with the NHL team, but I guess that's something for our planners to do."
Pegula declined to discuss anything related to a possible NHL lockout. A collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players' association expires Saturday.
As he has before, Pegula was asked about his level of interest in purchasing the Buffalo Bills.
"I've said many times the Bills have an owner," he said. "And I don't have a printing press."