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Two downtown construction projects are marking two very different milestones this week, as the Buffalo Sabres topped off the steel at HarborCenter on a foggy, gray Wednesday, while Uniland Development Co. erected a new tower crane to start building its 12-story office and hotel tower.

Construction workers shouted, cheered and snapped photos amid drizzle as the final piece of structural steel was raised from Perry Street over the top of the structure and into its position atop the eighth floor of HarborCenter at Canalside. There, workers sitting high atop other beams – but tethered for safety – grabbed hold, rotated and maneuvered the 1,500 pounds of steel into place and anchored it down.

The 40-foot beam – brightly painted in Sabres’ blue and yellow – was covered with signatures of construction workers, Sabres staff and even Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula and President Ted Black. A hockey stick, U.S. and Sabres flags, and banners of the contractors and labor union were attached, along with a small potted fir tree that is an ironworker tradition when a building reaches its maximum height.

“For the guys who are out here every day, this is a big day,” said Cliff Benson, the Sabres’ chief development officer. “Fifteen months ago, we broke ground, and here we stand today. It’s nothing short of a phenomenal effort.”

The 20-story mixed-use facility, which is linked to the First Niagara Center by a pedestrian bridge across Perry Street, will include two full-size NHL ice rinks on the sixth floor, a 205-room Marriott Buffalo HarborCenter hotel and an 850-space parking ramp. There’s also a two-story restaurant, called 716 Food and Sport, and a two-story commemorative Tim Hortons, plus some additional retail space. The facility will be the home arena for Canisius College hockey and the Junior Sabres, and will also host college and amateur hockey tournaments.

Plans originally called for the eight floors of the ramp, rinks, restaurants and retail to be open by late September or early October, with the hotel tower opening in May 2015. The complex project is now more than 70 percent complete, although it is slightly late after the difficult winter and typical construction hurdles.

Still, “we’re going to finish at the end of October,” said Ryan Poropat, project supervisor for general contractor Mortensen Construction. That’s a bit tight for Canisius, which had planned to start playing its hockey on the HarborCenter ice in early October.

“We have a lot of work obviously to do that, and we’re going to get it done, that’s for sure,” Poropat said. “You get a lot done real fast, and then it’s all the nitty-gritty detail work at the end. We’re entering that stage.”

Employment on the site is now at the peak of 250 workers daily, where it is expected to remain until the project is done, and the laborers are generally working six days a week – occasionally even on Sunday for specific needs, such as last week.

Meanwhile, farther north on Delaware Avenue at Chippewa Street, workers prepared to put up a new tower crane today – the fifth to be seen in downtown Buffalo in recent months. Uniland’s project at 250 Delaware calls for a new corporate headquarters for Delaware North Companies and a 120-room hotel.

Plans had called for the crane to start going up Wednesday, but projections of bad weather – including possible thunderstorms and lightning – forced officials to postpone the event until Thursday morning for safety.

The hotel tower will continue to climb until it tops out in September, but aside from a steel penthouse for mechanicals, the rest is concrete, so the ironworkers will be done. The remaining tower crane will come out in October.

Work then shifts inside, where the bleachers and 11 locker rooms are already framed on the south side, and the concrete pad for the south rink was poured.

Layers of drainage boards, insulation and vapor barriers will be laid above that, followed by the piping to cool another concrete layer above it, which will hold the ice sheet itself. That ice floor will be poured in late July, followed by the ice itself in August. The process will be repeated for the north rink.

Simultaneously, construction continues on the two restaurants. By winter, the hotel will be enclosed, leaving just the interior to be finished as of February or March.

“To be where we are today is nothing short of a great tribute to the effort,” Benson said. “Going forward, we’re now in a place where you can really move. We don’t see much of a problem going forward.”

email: jepstein@buffnews.com