The Webster Block: Tielman’s Critique of the Sabres’ Plan
by Geoff Kelly - posted 11:54 am, February 15, 2013
In yesterday’s print edition, we briefly noted the alternative plan for the Webster block created by Tim Tielman’s design group, Neigborhood Works, as a counter to the plan submitted by the Buffalo Sabres. Tielman presented the plan this week to the city’s planning board.
And below is the full text of the letter from John and Shelley McKendry, owners of Hi-Temp Fabrication at the corner of Perry and Illinois in the Cobblestone District, who commissioned Tielman’s group to come up with an alternate plan. The McKendrys sent the letter to Mayor Byron Brown and Sabres’ owner Terry Pegula.
Our family has owned property in the Lower Main Street area of Buffalo for over a century. We own 79 Perry Street in the Cobblestone Historic District, where we operate Hi-Temp Fabrication. We have for decades been enthusiastic supporters of arts, culture, and amateur sports in the Buffalo area. We are writing to express concern over the process and plans related to the City of Buffalo’s Request for Proposals for the so-called Webster Block last year. The RFP, focused as it was on providing a very large parking ramp, produced just two proposals. Both suffered from trying to accommodate the ramp. The process itself suffers from lack of meaningful public review and environmental assessment.
The Sabres’ plan, which the City endorsed last summer, requires the public abandonment of parts of Scott, Perry, and Washington streets. Half the width of Washington Street will be lost; the Cobblestone Historic District, the Old First Ward, and points east will be cut off from the Canal District and Erie Basin waterfront by a windowless wall eight stories high, comprising the parking ramp surmounted by two hockey rinks. Perry Street will be reduced to an access tunnel for the parking ramp.
The central planning frustration of Buffalo over the last 40 years has been how the Thruway, Skyway and HSBC Center form barriers between the city and the water. Do we really want to create a new barrier? That would further isolate the Canal District and jeopardize current and future investments in the Cobblestone District and Old First Ward. It would undermine public transportation with an almost-1000-car ramp on top of a Metrorail Station. This is confounding when one considers that the 1100-car ramp a block away on Perry and Illinois St., across from our offices, is virtually empty 24/7 all year round, except during First Niagara Center events.
We believe the City RFP was actually too narrow. It limited itself geographically and functionally. We could do so much better. We must do better.
Toward that end, we have hired a consultant to develop a concept that we feel meets and exceeds all the goals of the RFP, avoids negative impacts to public transportation, and enhances the connections between city and water. We call the concept LoMa, for LOwer MAin.
The LoMa concept includes a single enclosed ice rink on top of a smaller two-level parking ramp on Washington St. Three spectacular open-air rinks are added—two on top of a new deck built above the existing First Niagara Center parking ramp, and one on a rebuilt platform extending from the DL&W train shed westward to Main Street. All would be connected by a series of bridges (gold, blue, and white—colors of the Sabres and First Niagara Bank). In addition, there would be a pedestrian flyover directly into the Canal District. A hotel with a corner spire sits at Main and Perry. A row of gable-roofed rowhouses with ground floor retail would extend north of the hotel to Scott St. A similar row would line Scott Street.
Finally, a tall glass-and-steel stair and elevator tower surmounted by a playful “Hockey Man” weathervane would serve as a marker for the abundant parking that is already available but somewhat hidden. Hockey Man would be visible from the Central Wharf and from the inbound Thruway on the east. A true “Hockeyland” during the colder months, and a spectacular series of platforms for summer events.
LoMa would be a distinctive area that binds together and strengthens all of the waterfront and downtown, and be a wise use of public and private resources. It would save the construction and maintenance costs of 700 parking stalls while increasing the utilization and revenue from existing ramps. It would open up development of the historic DL&W train shed and encourage growth in the Cobblestone District and Old First Ward. We are enclosing a copy of the LoMa concept. We urge you to consider it, and are eager to discuss it with you.
Here’s why folks should cease to resort to the word “obstructionist” whenever a critique is offered of an existing development plan, and why folks should separate themselves from any historical animosity toward Tielman and the role he’s played in the city’s public debates in the past 20 years, and consider seriously the content of the critique:
- A proposal that asks the city to abandon parts of public streets deserves a harder look than the Sabres’ plan has received.
- A proposal that asks the city to narrow a street that accesses the project area while forecasting increased automobile traffic deserves a harder look than the Sabres’ plan has received.
- A proposal that includes a structure built over a city street also deserves a harder look than the Sabres’ plan has received.
I’m all for what the Sabres are proposing. (I don’t know about the parking ramp, given the oceans of surface parking lots that serve the area already. But fine—more parking. Everyone always wants more parking.) However, I don’t think the McKendrys and Tielman should be dismissed out of hand for criticizing the particulars of how the Sabres intend to achieve their idea. Someone has to take a hard look, because we only get to do this once. There is little evidence that anyone else has done so.