Terry Pegula asks, “Are we there yet?”
by Andrew Kulyk (@akulykUSRT) - posted 11:02 am, November 7, 2014
This is how it all began. New Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, just settling into his office at First Niagara Center in spring of 2011, looks out onto the Inner Harbor, and he doesn’t like what he sees. A construction project to unearth and recreate the cobblestone street grid has just been completed, but the area is a mess, with jersey bumpers, piles of crushed stone, and other assorted debris scattered across the Canalside neighborhood.
So he calls the Mayors’ office, and that leads him to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, and next thing you know, Pegula is cutting a $120,000 check to clean up the property, lay sod and install landscaping. The hugely popular and heavily used swaths of grass at Canalside (which, by the way, are all future development sites according to the approved master plan) all made possible thanks to Pegula’s largesse.
Are we there yet?
Not quite, because that introduction to the Mayor, and how things work at various levels of government, led Pegula to focus on the vacant Webster Block, owned by the city, and that got Buffalo to move on issuing a request for proposals to develop the site.
And that is the genesis of how we eventually got to HarborCenter, the largest privately funded development in Buffalo’s history. Last night, a grand opening party was held in the facility, attended in part by employees of the organization, stakeholders, civic leaders and business sponsors. It was a festive affair, and all eyes and ears were trained on Kim and Terry Pegula as the formal presentations took place on the ice.
Interestingly, Terry Pegula was making his very first visit to the completed facility last night. Call it his innate superstitions or just an unusual quirk of a billionaire businessman, but Pegula handed off the details of the project’s development to the capable people he hired to pull it off, so the official opening was his first glimpse of HarborCenter.
The initial idea for the building was far simpler – a parking ramp, topped by two hockey rinks. Thanks to the vision, in part of wife Kim Pegula and development officer Cliff Benson, HarborCenter became much, much more, as a destination Tim Hortons cafe and exhibits, the chic 716 Food and Sport sports bistro, a training facility named Impact Sports Performance, a hockey school named the Academy of Hockey, and a 205 room Marriott Hotel were added to create a destination which is one of a kind in the world.
Both Pegulas spoke with thanks and humility, Terry sharing a story of a family vacation to Alaska, (yes, they drove!), with Pegula’s daughter asking “are we there yet” as they passed the Thruway exit at Dunkirk, New York. Pegula posed the same question in regards to what has been created at the foot of Main Street, sending the message that much more is to come.
Mayor Byron Brown presented Terry and Kim the key to the city. In his brief remarks, the Mayor voiced the assurance that the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres will be here for the long term, and as he said that, Pegula, in his chair, pumped his fist in the air. One of those moments everyone was glad to be a part of.
716 Food and Sport opens at 3PM today to the public. A calendar of events published last week in Artvoice indicated that there would be a formal public open house this weekend. HarborCenter officials stated that there will be no specific open house event at the facility, but that the building is open for business and chances are hockey games will be going on at either or both rinks. The public is welcome to drop by and check things out.