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How the NHL Florida Panthers Dissed Buffalo

Filed under: Puck Stop, Sports

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Let me open with some disclosure here.

First of all, as a lifelong Buffalonian, I have a thin skin when it comes to slams about our weather. I love the four seasons, our summers are wonderful, and I shake my head in amazement as to why people live in climes where they bake and swelter all summer, or have to deal with the constant threat of horrific natural disasters. We take more guff from out of town people, many of whom have never even visited our part of the world, and we don’t deserve it.

Second, I am not a fan of placing NHL franchises in cities where they are not appreciated or supported. This is not a criticism of South Florida, per se, but I am a firm believer that the sport we love becomes instantly better with teams sited in Quebec City, Seattle, Hartford, or even Halifax, rather than locales such as Glendale, Sunrise or Atlanta.

When the Thrashers moved from Atlanta to Winnipeg, my USRT partner Peter Farrell and I could not wait to head up there, to mingle with the fans and the civic leaders who helped make it happen, and to just soak in the city vibe of a community that was thrilled to have their beloved NHL hockey back.

By the way, the temperature in Winnipeg never got higher than -1 Fahrenheit on that journey. We wouldn’t have had it any other way.

So this past weekend, prior to the start of the Buffalo Sabres/Florida Panthers game at the BB&T Center, they dimmed the lights to begin the pregame intros. The first image on the video board? A picture of massive amounts of snow, set to scary and somber music. I turned to Buffalo News hockey writer John Vogl, seated in the press box next to me, and said, “Here we go again”.

The Panthers did not let me down. The video continued with dramatic scenes of stranded cars, people buried, sights that we WNYers are all too familiar with when these occasional lake effects deluge us. Then juxtaposed with the pics was Stanley Panther, the team mascot, happily frolicking in South Florida on a spectacular sunny day.

The 1500 or so in attendance at puck drop time, or at least the portion of the fans that were locals, might have been amused. I wasn’t.

My instant reaction? “This is supposed to be funny? This was no ordinary storm. People died. Tens of thousands of lives were affected.”.

I immediately took to Twitter, expressing my displeasure and outrage, interspersed with a twinge of sarcasm, and put it out squarely at the Florida Panthers front office. Former Artvoice hockey writer Suzanne Taylor, who was in attendance and seated in the “crowd”, alertly took a video of the presentation and captured most of it, then posted it on her Facebook feed.

Here is a sampling of some of my commentary:

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What happened next was pretty amazing. News of the rogue Panthers video started pinging all over social media, with all of this starting thanks to the initial posts that Suzanne and I published. Interestingly, fans and media back in Buffalo, most of whom had not actually seen the video but learned of it via our posts, were similarly pissed off. Mind you, everyone in WNY, those living in the snow band and outside, were affected in some way. There are literally thousands of stories of people rescuing friends, neighbors, and family, pitching in to help out, dealing with the damage and loss of property, of income from work, and in the saddest of cases, the loss of loved ones.

By the first intermission, a few local media organizations from Buffalo, and even a couple national media outlets, namely Puckdaddy and NBC Sports, had picked up on the story. The tale of the rogue video had now gone viral.

I spent the second period tending to this story more than the action on the ice. Stafford scored, Gionta scored. The Panthers got a late goal to take a 3-2 lead. No matter. I was in the thick of all this, and there would be no turning back.

During the second intermission I left my chair to take a call in the pressbox concourse area where it was not as noisy. As I am standing there, who walks by but Sabres owner Terry Pegula and GM Tim Murray. About 30 seconds later out walks Panthers GM Dale Tallon from his booth, and right in the middle of that pressbox concourse the three men are engaged in an animated discussion, in full and prominent view of all the media and pressbox staff. I kept a respectful distance, wishing the entire time I could be a fly on the wall. Tallon looked pretty grim, and it was Pegula and Murray doing most of the talking. I could only speculate that the topic of conversation was that video.

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My speculation was confirmed when I returned to my chair. Respected Miami Herald sports writer George Richards got a drift of that conversation as he passed by, and this is what he tweeted.

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Whether Pegula and Murray were immediately angered when they saw the video, or were alerted to all the kerfuffle on social media and traditional media via their PR staffers who travel with the team, is a matter for speculation. But their reaction was the correct one. They had Buffalo’s back and they should be thanked and admired for resolutely speaking out to the Panthers’ top management.

The Panthers shtick about their weather is nothing new. Back in the days before 360 ribbon boards took over the balcony rims, the team had a “weather board” display in one end zone, posting the conditions of the home and visiting teams. It went something like this: “Sunrise 82, glorious. Buffalo 11, bitter.”

I was always amused as to why the home team would be antagonizing their out of town visitors this way, as if to say, “Isn’t it great here? It must suck to be you.” But whatever. It was a part of the charm and lore of going there.

But this video crossed the line. And this wasn’t some off-the-cuff tweet sent out by a young PR intern. This video took scripting, planning, and execution by more than a few of the Panthers’ game ops personnel. One has to wonder, at any time did even one staffer beg the question, “Are we taking this too far?”

Can you even fathom something similar to Hurricane Andrew from back in 1992, and the Sabres attempting to turn that into a funny video? Imagine this script – scenes from Miami and Ft Lauderdale of flattened homes, people in the streets in search of aid and shelter, and all the while back in Buffalo there is Sabretooth, intertwined into the clip, happily enjoying a lazy, sunny, late summer day at Canalside. Producing and presenting something like that would truly be beyond the pale.

It will be interesting to see if the Panthers front office will take any further action. Or perhaps they will just ignore this matter and hope it all goes away. Which it will.

But the lesson here, for all teams, is that they have to do a better job in managing the game day event experience. Long gone is the day when going to a sporting venue meant seeing a scoreboard with line scores and the occasional card shuffle or silly contest, displayed in 1.0 graphics on a dot matrix board.

Today’s presentation is an elaborate display of videos, of music bumps, lighting, special effects. And there is more. In more and more places fans can instantly interact with the team, the venue, even the players, via social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are becoming an even more integral part of the game experience and in game entertainment. Teams hire a phalanx of “social media assistants”, most young, many being college grads in sports management, and most a year or so removed from their stints as unpaid interns, to work the games in real time. The potential for disaster in this age of instant reporting and communications is enormous.

The Florida Panthers don’t deserve tar and feathers. Nobody went out and strangled puppies. It was a lapse in judgment, plain and simple. Let’s hope they man up as an organization, do the right thing, and apologize.


A fresh new look at Coca Cola Field

Crews taking advantage of the fabulous fall weather to continue installation of 3300 new seats at the downtown ballpark

Crews taking advantage of the fabulous fall weather to continue installation of 3300 new seats at the downtown ballpark

In late summer, the Buffalo Bisons announced the first step in what will eventually be a remake of Coca Cola Field would be implemented during this offseason. Up first, the replacement of some of the seats in the stadium’s seating bowl, which have been in place since the facility opened in 1988. Today the team opened up the ballpark for the first sneak peek at the new look seating bowl.

Gone are all the old red seats in the area known as the “special reserved” section on the 100 level, representing about 25% of the seating capacity in the stadium, and they have been replaced by brand new kelly green seats which are wider and roomier than the old seating. The concrete base has been sealed and repainted, giving this area of the ballpark a fresh new look. The cost of this project, approximately $750,000, was funded via a capital improvements allocation from the stadium’s owner, the City of Buffalo.

The plan is to eventually replace all fixed seats in the ballpark, which just by doing the math based on the costs of this initial phase, should run somewhere in the $2.5-million range. But there are bigger plans in the works. “We’re working with our architects, Populous, to develop a new master plan to transform this ballpark over the next few years,” says Bisons Public Relations Director Brad Bisbing. “Our objective won’t be to catch up with what has been done in other ballparks, but to be the trend setter in terms of design, features and amenities. What that will eventually be will be fun to watch unfold.”bisons2011

The stadium will be starting its 28th year of operation in just 149 days when the Buffalo Bisons open the 2015 season of baseball. The team has made its own private contribution to enhancements at the ballpark in recent years, including new player training facilities and batting cages, a field drainage system, upgraded lighting and sound systems, and most notably for the fans, a spectacular new high definition scoreboard, one of the finest in all of minor league baseball.

Bisbing was unable to come up with a firm number for what will be the new stadium capacity, which has been 18,025 in recent years. “We’re still tweaking some other areas of the ballpark, but we removed 3700 of the old seats and replaced them with 3300 new ones, so the new number will fall somewhere in the mid 17,000 range.”

Mayor Byron Brown just released his 2015 capital improvements budget for the city, and in that budget $1-million has been allocated for the stadium. How that money is spent remains to be determined. But one thing is for certain – Coca Cola Field will be taking a new and different shape in coming years, adding to the momentum and energy happening downtown and at Canalside. Stay tuned.

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Terry Pegula asks, “Are we there yet?”

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown presents the key to city to HarborCenter owners Kim and Terry Pegula as the facility is officially opened.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown presents the key to city to HarborCenter owners Kim and Terry Pegula as the facility is officially opened.

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.


(716) Food and Sport… What you need to know

HarborCenter's glitzy new  bistro will be opening its doors to the public on Friday

HarborCenter’s glitzy new bistro will be opening its doors to the public on Friday

It’s been a whirlwind week over at HarborCenter, the $172-million privately funded hockey center over at Canalside.

The new destination Tim Hortons Cafe opened for business with lines out the door, a statue of Horton was unveiled across the street. Then the HarborCenter rinks opened last weekend with packed houses for Canisius College and debuts for both the ECC Kats and the Buffalo Junior Sabres. the first of many HarborCenter tournaments packed downtown hotels last weekend, with more to come. Construction on the building continues with the hotel tower being buttoned up for the cold weather ahead, and a huge construction punch list of finishes and enhancements still to be set in place.

So tomorrow, Friday, the next component of HarborCenter opens its doors at 3:00PM, and this one promises to be another event with a “wow” factor. (716) Food and Sport, a 13,000 square foot, 365 seat sports themed restaurant will begin serving the general public for the very first time. According, to HarborCenter president John Koelmel, there won’t be any big ribbon cutting or ballon launching hoopla, just an opening of the doors and a staff ready to wait and welcome and serve.

Koelmel met with the media this morning as crews were still putting finishing touches on the restaurant’s entrance. Drink menus and cloth napkins adorned each of the tables. The restaurant has already welcomed diners throughout the week at private events for sponsors and staff connected with the project through a series of training events. Said Koelmel, “It’s been phenomenal. We’ve served over 1000 people, from friends and family to other vendors and supporters that have been willing to come in and help us test drive. The feedback has been fabulous. First and foremost the facility itself it’s an enjoyable place to be. It’s comfortable. It’s fun. It’s relaxing. It’s high energy. To the food and drink the response has been fantastic. We’re looking to tweak a few things to make what’s very good that much better. It’s coming together very nicely.

Koelmel admitted that owner Terry Pegula has yet to set foot in the now opened HarborCenter, but plans to get his first peek tonight at a private grand opening event. “We’re looking forward to his first walk through this fabulous showcase.

As for particulars for the public, here is some helpful information if you’re planning to visit (716) Food and Sport:

– The doors will open for business on Friday at 3PM and be open until 2AM. Then regular hours of business will be 7 days a week from 11AM until 2AM.

-The restaurant will not be open to the public this Sunday as they will be hosting a private event. So if you were thinking of debuting at the place for your first Sunday of Bills football and the NFL Sunday Ticket, you will have to wait a week.

-Ample parking is available in the HarborCenter parking ramp and will initially be complimentary for 716 patrons, as HarborCenter management tweaks the entire parking situation for its fans using the amenities in the building, as well as on nights when the Sabres play at home in the adjacent First Niagara Center.

-For the first few weeks, seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis and no reservations will be accepted. As the staff becomes acclimated to customer flow and get situated, patrons will be able to make reservations by phone or online.

-The 716 Food and Sport free mobile app is available for download and contains a table reservation component, as well as a wealth of information on the food and drink menu.

-Although there are two entrances, the main one at the corner of Washington and Scott and the second connecting to level 2 of the HarborCenter ramp, initially only the street entrance will be open for public access, again, while management and staff acclimates to the customer flow.

-Work is continuing on the Main Street lobby to the HarborCenter, which is open but a bit hard to find as it is situated behind a stack of jersey barriers lining the Main Street Metrorail tracks. These will remain in place while work on the hotel tower continues.

-No date yet on the opening of a skybridge which will connect the third level of the HarborCenter ramp to the First Niagara Center pavilion.

-As was previously announced, there are no plans for outdoor patio seating on the entry plaza near the main entrance.

-And yes, 716 Food and Sport logoed merchandise and apparel will be sold and available near the main entrance of the restaurant.


Tim Horton immortalized: “It was a good day”

Hard to believe it, but there are now over 200 Tim Hortons cafe and bake shops dotting the landscape across Western New York. Countless more stores are located across the bridge and into Canada. What small town or burg in Ontario does not have their very own Timmy-Ho’s?

So some might have raised their eyebrows and wondered why the opening of yet another Hortons cafe and bake shop, this one on the corner of Main And Scott streets at Canalside, merited headline news and the top story on yesterday’s evening newscasts.

But this Tim Hortons opening was special. Very special. For one thing, it heralded the official opening of the first component of HarborCenter, the mammoth multi use structure which is already transforming Canalside into a year round happening destination.

Sabres president Ted Black and Tim Horton's three daughters unveil the statue of Tim Horton, now proudly standing on the very site of Horton's final playing days.

Sabres president Ted Black and Tim Horton’s three daughters unveil the statue of Tim Horton, now proudly standing on the very site of Horton’s final playing days.

More importantly, yesterday’s opening celebrated Tim Horton, the man, the hockey player, the individual that was one of the building blocks of the early days of the Buffalo Sabres franchise. Who left an indelible mark on the team and whose name and number hang proudly from the rafters at First Niagara Center.

When coach Punch Imlach was summarily fired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1970 after winning four Stanley Cups for their team in the 60s (Toronto hasn’t won a Cup since), he came to Buffalo and boldly promised that the fledgling Buffalo Sabres would be the first expansion team to win a championship. Buffalo drafted first that year, selected Gilbert Perreault and built the team around their hot prospect. And what Imlach did was recruit a lot of retreads and over the hill players from his former squad in Toronto.

The team wasn’t that good during that first season. But the Sabres captured the hearts and support of the community. Demand for tickets spiked as the old Aud was expanded, and even with 5000 new seats in the oranges a Buffalo Sabres ticket was a hot and precious commodity for much of the 70s.

Prior to the 1972-73 season, Imlach managed to pluck one of his former prized assets off the waiver wire – Tim Horton was being let go from the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo snatched him up, even offering Horton the then unheard of sum of $100,000 to come and play in Buffalo. It was a steal. Horton was one of the strongest and toughest players on the Toronto roster… he was so intimidating that nobody wanted to fight him. His character and his presence in the Leafs locker room helped catapult them to four championships, and they were a dominant force for most of that decade in the NHL.

Horton’s contributions to the Leafs were so great that his name and number hang from the rafters at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, banners that also enshrine some of the veritable gods of hockey who played for the Leafs over the last century.

And here in Buffalo? Oh did he become a force. The record will show that he only scored one goal in the 124 games he played for the Buffalo Sabres. But his steadying influence, his leadership in the locker room, his mentoring of young defensemen such as Jim Schoenfeld, Bill Hajt and Jerry Korab, were invaluable as the ragtag Sabres made their improbable run to the playoffs in only the third season of their existence. Who could forget game 5 that year at the Forum in Montreal, Rene Robert scoring in overtime to beat Scotty Bowman’s Habs and force a game 6 in Buffalo. Who could forget a loud and packed Aud contingent chanting “Thank You Sabres” two days later as Montreal won that night to take the series. Grainy video still exists of that moment and it still brings chills down the spine, even to Sabres fans who weren’t alive back then or too young to remember.

Horton was a huge part of that success and accomplishment, and why the Sabres are cemented and bonded to this community to this day. His life was tragically cut short when he crashed his vehicle on the QEW the morning of February 21, 1974. Driving too fast, too much liquor. The Sabres had a game at home that night, and news traveled throughout the day as to what had happened. The game against Atlanta that night went on as planned; players from both teams wore black armbands. Defenseman Jim Schoenfeld wept openly as a moment of silence was observed. The sadness of the moment permeated throughout the building, and players who were on that squad that season will admit to this day that was the saddest moment in the franchise’s history.

The Sabres went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in 1974-75, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in six games. Might the Sabres have won it all had Horton still been alive and in a Buffalo uniform? One will never know but the discussion makes for great hockey fodder, and one thing is for sure: the thuggish players who constituted the Flyers lineup would not have messed with the Sabres with Horton on the blue line. He was a player to be feared.

What was important about all of yesterday’s hoopla was not another donut shop. It was the enshrinement of a man who made a difference for Buffalo. A store. And a statue. So that fathers can take their sons and point to Horton and shares the stories of their youth, when they were wide eyed youngsters watching their heroes on the ice for the first time.

When Tim Horton’s three daughters come to town to commemorate their dad, it matters. When a new signature Tim Hortons shop opens, branded in Sabres’ blue and gold, it matters. When a restaurant doubles as a veritable museum, celebrating Horton’s career, displaying memorabilia of the old Aud and the Erie Canal and offering visitors yet another attraction at Canalside, it matters. When the CEO of Tim Hortons USA comes to Buffalo, bearing a gift of a statue to the people of Buffalo and Western New York, it matters.

And that is why yesterday was a good day for Buffalo. And with HarborCenter opening this weekend, what will be plenty of more good days. Best of all, Sabres president Ted Black said, “we’re just getting started.”

Just what we wanted to hear.


At First Niagara Center… It’s All About The Food

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Long, long gone are the days of the Aud concessions… boiled hot dogs, cardboard pizza, popcorn, soda and beer headlining the ballpark dreck.

Today at First Niagara Center, the Buffalo Sabres, along with their culinary partners Delaware North, unveiled an entire array of new food and concession items which hungry fans will have to choose from when they come to Sabres hockey games starting with the season opener this Thursday.

There will be new unique food items in the suites, in the Lexus Club on the 100 level, the Harbour Club 200, as well as offerings available at concession stands in the rest of the seating areas. And the Sabres couldn’t wait to show off their new treats to the media at a special unveiling in the Lexus Club.

On the general concession menu? The Sabres front office has been talking up the pizza logs, served with marianara sauce, or enjoy them Buffalo style, brushed with hot sauce and served with a side of bleu cheese.

Up in the suites, patrons will have access to a special Poutine Potato bar, roasted potatoes topped with beef gravy and cheese curds, and also can be topped with either bacon, cheddar, or Montreal style brisket. Other new items include a tomato mozzarella pizza dip served with cheese sticks, beef tenderloin served on a brioche roll with caramelized onion, roasted red pepper and sriracha aioli, and for dessert, a root beer float prepared with Perry’s vanilla ice cream and Saranac root beer.

But the biggest hit today? One of the simplest of items: maple bacon on a stick. Imagine a thick slab of bacon, grilled and marbled with maple and served on a skewer. This tasty treat will be available in the Harbour Club 200, and judging by today’s comments from those in attendance, the lines should be long.

Scott Green is the Executive Chef at First Niagara Center, and led the team responsible for many of the new food offerings in the building. “Certainly we are driven by what fans demand and ask for, and we are also influenced by what works in other similar venues. We wanted to create a menu that emphasizes Buffalo and uses local ingredients and producers. Look at our menu and the words ‘Costanzo’s, Perry’s, Sahlen’s’ will jump right out at you.”

Green’s challenge was to develop food items which can be efficiently mass prepared and served with the emphasis on freshness and warmth. “We certainly don’t want to keep items under a heat lamp, so we experiment in the kitchen and find what works and what fans will enjoy. We think we have a good line up.”

As for my challenge? Trying to shed a few pounds and comfortably get back into my fall apparel, I hunkered down about a week and a half ago and started the low carbohydrate and cut the sugars diet routine, have been sticking to the program and it’s already yielding results. So how to attend a tasting event, dive into all the arena culinary delights, and not blow up on carbs and refined sugars?

The answer was simple… invite Artvoice Managing Editor Buck Quigley to come along, Buck having absolutely no battle with the bulge.

So we went in different directions, me opting for the maple bacon on a stick, the apple bacon salad served with walnuts, feta and concord vinaigrette, while Buck went for the poutine bar with the Montreal beef brisket, the premium shellfish platter, concentrating on the oysters on a half shell, and ending up with a root beer float.

Judging from the samplings at a HarborCenter event a few months back, look for the concession fare at their facility to be something special as well. On top of all that, the new 716 Food and Sport bistro will be rolling out their entire menu sometime mid month. They’ve been tweeting some sneak previews of their restaurant fare.
Bottom line? If you’re planning a visit to an event at First Niagara Center or HarborCenter, go hungry. You won’t be disappointed.
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BUCK’s TOP PICK: Premium shellfish platter, with crab legs, shrimp and oysters on the half shell
BUCK’s SECOND PICK: Poutine potato bar topped with Montreal style brisket
NEEDS WORK: Pistachio crusted salmon, with roasted garlic mashed potato, fennel, arugula; olives, peppers and tomato butter

ANDREW’s TOP PICK: Shrimp and crab lobster rolls, wrapped with mayo, celery and lemon
ANDREW’s SECOND PICK: Reuben burger, swiss, pastrami, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing
NEEDS WORK: Chicken Gyro, with feta, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, kalamatas and tzatziki sauce

OVERALL TOP PICK: Maple bacon on a stick!

Here is a list of all the new items that will be available in the non-premium areas of First Niagara Center:

· Italian sausage flat bread
Artichoke hearts, caramelized onion and crisp flatbread
· Buffalo chicken flat bread
House made hot bleu sauce, tossed chicken tenders tossed, six Italian cheeses and crumbled bleu cheese
· Original pizza logs
1. Traditional, served with marinara sauce
2. Buffalo style, brushed with spicy hot sauce, served with a side of bleu cheese hot sauce for dipping
· Fried banana pepper rings
Southwestern ranch dipping sauce
· Cuban melt panini sandwich
Pulled pork, smoked ham, swiss cheese and dill pickle chips
· Pastrami and swiss panini sandwich
Lean shaved pastrami and melted swiss cheese
· Loaded potato chips
· Loaded baked potato
Cheddar cheese sauce, bacon bits, sour cream and scallions
· Dessert chips
Hot fudge, salted caramel, whipped cream and chopped maraschino cherries
· Hot ice cream sandwich
Sweet bread filled with ice cream, hot sealed, and served with strawberry or chocolate sauce for dipping


Can tailgating work at a downtown Buffalo stadium? Absolutely!

Back in August, we presented The Artvoice Stadium Plan, a bold blueprint for how a replacement stadium for the Buffalo Bills could be placed in the middle of the downtown core. The article received a lot of praise, a lot of critique, and generated a great deal of discussion throughout the community.

One of the biggest objections, if not the biggest, which detractors of a downtown stadium raise is the issue of the tailgating. Since Ralph Wilson Stadium opened its doors in 1973, a suburban venue surrounded with 17,000 parking spaces and 200 acres of asphalt, the robust tailgating tradition has been synonymous with Buffalo Bills football. Along with such teams as Green Bay, Houston and Kansas City, Buffalo fans rank amongst the elite in the NFL when it comes to throwing a tailgate party.

What would happen to tailgating if the Buffalo Bills relocated to a downtown location, sited amidst a dense neighborhood of existing structures and where vast seas of open parking are at a premium.

The answer. Nothing bad. To see how things could work, perhaps Detroit could be looked at as a template.
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In 2002, the Detroit Lions left their old stadium, the Pontiac Silverdome, for a glitzy new stadium located right in the middle of downtown Detroit and directly adjacent to a newly invigorated Greektown Historic District. Like us here in Orchard Park, the Silverdome was located in the exurbs, and surrounded by little more than huge acreage of open parking lots. People in Detroit loved to tailgate, and lamented the lack of suitable tailgate venues upon the move downtown.
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The team responded by setting up a designated “tailgate lot”, but it was too far, too small, and well off the beaten path.

But tailgating came back to Detroit, with a vengeance, and grew organically in creative ways as people sought venues and settings to enjoy football gamedays. And eventually, Detroit’s Eastern Market became tailgate central. On any football Sunday, the neighborhood comes alive as thousands upon thousands of fans name the streets and the neighborhood to engage in their football pastime.
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During the week, the Eastern Market is the hub of farmers produce and other food items sold in kiosks and stands throughout a six block area. The neighborhood looks much like Buffalo’s own Cobblestone District, with many post industrial structures, some warehouses, a bit of new infill, loading docks, a few quaint shops and restaurants, and while many of the buildings bear a strong architectural and historical heritage, others are way past their prime dreck.

Here is a map of the Eastern Market Tailgate, just a long touchdown pass away from the front doors of Ford Field in Detroit

Here is a map of the Eastern Market Tailgate, just a long touchdown pass away from the front doors of Ford Field in Detroit


On game day, everything changes. Fans descend by the thousands with their cars, RV’s and campers. Radio stations and other media outlets set up their kiosks, food trucks abound, stages with live music are in abundance, the streets come alive and people fill every nook and cranny in a big community celebration.

The scene is not unlike that of game day surrounding Ralph Wilson Stadium, except that at the Ralph the scene is set in massive open lots, while in Detroit the same scene unfolds amidst a multi block setting of industrial and commercial buildings.
Hans Steiniger is a passionate Buffalo Bills fans now living in suburban Detroit, and he has attended football games at all 31 NFL venues as well as many college football games. He chronicles his journey at his web site, Questfor31.com Hans was on hand this past Sunday at the Eastern Market Tailgate, dressed in Bills attire while holding court with his many Detroit friends, and marveled at how the Detroit tailgate scene has evolved. “Water always finds its level,” explained Hans. When the Lions moved here things were kind of dead, but over time it picked up here, and what you see here today is one of the coolest NFL tailgate scenes anywhere, right here in Motown.

Could tailgating work at a downtown Buffalo location? “For sure,” says Hans. “Buffalo people have to get out of that mindset that you need big oceans of asphalt to have proper tailgating. Anyplace where you can set up a grill and a canopy and share the experience with others becomes a proper tailgate venue. A little out of the box thinking is all you need. Buffalo is party city and that party will move from Ralph Wilson Stadium to a downtown location with no problem.”
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So imagine if you will that some incarnation of the Artvoice Stadium Plan comes to fruition come 2021 or so, and community sentiment right now certainly seems to favor that if a new stadium is to become a reality, that it be located in Buffalo and preferably downtown.

Would it be feasible that the Ohio Street corridor, Riverfest Park and Father Conway Park in the Old First Ward would come alive with tailgate revelers? Would properties along South Park, and Perry Street, and Scott Street, and Exchange Street, be lined with cars and campers and these corridors become a massive street party on game day? Could you see the Cobblestone District with music stages and food truck courts and vendors hawking their wares? Would Canalside and the soon to be opened HarborCenter become energetic centers of activity?

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The answer. Absolutely.

The photos contained in this article were taken this past Sunday prior to the Buffalo Bills vs Detroit Lions game in Detroit by Artvoice sports columnists Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell. Follow on twitter @akulykUSRT and @pfarrellUSRT


The “Major Announcement”: Ballpark Improvements Coming

Bisons

Friday’s hasty media release by the Buffalo Bisons wasn’t unexpected, expect for the timing of it all.

A “major ballpark announcement” read the press release, Mayor Byron Brown would be in attendance, the announcement would be staged in a little used mezzanine area behind home plate, and as people starting showing up, the stage was crafted between a season ticket holder meet and greet party and music wafting from the main level on what was a very crowded Fridaynightbash Buffalo Bisons’ game.

So what gives?

The announcement – the installation of 3700 new kelly green chairs at Coca Cola Field, in the area known as “special reserved seating”, which basically spans the infield in the lower section of the seating bowl from dugout to dugout.

Mind you, the fixed chairs at the ballpark, and there are over 16,000 of them, have been in place since the stadium opened in 1988. Many of them have faded from sunlight, armchair paint is peeling, and it is a needed and welcome announcement that this latest enhancement is finally happening.

Nonetheless, at first glance, the entire “major announcement” had the feel of not really all that big a deal.

So when Bisons President Jon Dandes and Mayor Brown stepped up to the podium, with a sample chair displayed right next to them, the questions came flying. And there were answers. Plenty of them.

The particulars are this – the new chairs will be put in place as soon as the team is done playing baseball, which may mean a couple weeks from now, as the Bisons are in the midst of a very exciting pennant chase for one of two available playoff spots, a race that may go the last day of the season. The city will be making the investment of $758.000 for the new chairs. The seats will be 22 inches wide, a full 3 inches more than the current red chairs. And the plan is to eventually replace all the seats at Coca Cola Field, which in and of itself will give the ballpark a completely different look and feel.

So that’s it? That’s all?

Not by a long shot. “We are working with our architect, Populous, which most of you know as the former HOK Sport, for a new plan to reinvent our stadium”, said Dandes, who admitted that the team has been working for months to come up with plans for an overhaul of the 27 year old ballpark.

Much of this is being driven by yet more construction of dynamic and exciting new ballparks in peer communities. In the International League alone, most teams have replaced their stadiums in the past two decades, making Coca Cola Field the second oldest park in the IL. Two new ballparks in particular have opened to rave reviews – Columbus’ Huntington Bank Ballpark is located in the city’s downtown Arena District, and is a veritable museum and showcase for minor league baseball, complete with sprawling exhibits throughout the venue, party decks, restaurants and premium seating amenities which Buffalo fans could not begin to comprehend. Over in Charlotte, their new BB&T Ballpark in Uptown sports views of the skyline which practically cascade into the outfield, and a great destination ballpark neighborhood replete with restaurants and shopping.

“Everything’s on the table including a retractable roof up on the party deck to the renovation of our suites to the dugouts to the concession stands and all the amenities here at the ballpark,” said Dandes. “We’ve asked HOK/Populous to take a look at what is state of the art. I’ve asked (Bisons General Manager) Mike Buczkowski and our team to visit a number of these ballparks to make sure we are at that level. We need to be state of the art and we are going to do that.”

Dandes set an aggressive timetable of “2 to 4 years” to get this done, while stating that this most likely will involve some aid in terms of public moneys. He was quick to emphasize that the Rich family, owners of the Bisons, have invested $23-million of their own moneys over the years towards the stadium. At the top of the list of things evident to the fans are the massive high definition video board, companion video boards and new sound system, all funded by the team. “At the end of the day, this is all about what the fans want when they come to experience the ballpark.”

Buczkowski promised that a plan, complete with renderings and a complete vision, will be coming. “We’ve been working on this all year. We’re heading to Charlotte to tour their ballpark at the championship game in September. The reality of this is the funding to do this all at once isn’t in place. So we thought the prudent approach was to do this all in phases. Let’s get it started, let’s build some momentum, and show everybody how great it could be.”

While the wider seats in the first phase won’t necessarily cost total capacity at the ballpark (18,025 including berm and party decks), Buczkowski says that a smaller ballpark may be the end result. “Just by doing the math, wider chairs means fewer overall seats. But we want to see what the other parks have done in terms of picnic areas and party areas. We want to create these common gathering areas where fans can come together and not necessarily be in a seat,” said Buczkowski.

Buczkowski was with the team when then Pilot Field opened in 1988. “We did things that others have since emulated over the past 25 years. This ballpark was groundbreaking at the time and now we ask ‘what is the next big thing?’. So for sure Populous is already thinking ahead in terms of what does the next great minor league ballpark look like. So we’re thinking that way in terms of a master plan and what we need to do to make this ballpark great for the next twenty seven years.

So as for Friday’s “major announcement”? Call it a “prelude major announcement” to the “major announcement” to come. The Bisons promised an unveiling of the total plan for the ballpark as soon as it’s ready. A remake of Buffalo’s Coca Cola Field is set to happen, another piece of the excitement and momentum that is building all over downtown and on the waterfront. “We’re excited about all the things happening down the street at Canalside, and we are in constant communication with the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation as to what we are all doing,” said Dandes. “But I should remind everyone that we came here in the 80’s and built here and invested here when there was nothing here but empty spaces. So we welcome them as our new neighbors and partners as downtown Buffalo continues to grow.

Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell cover the Buffalo Bisons for Artvoice. Follow them on Twitter @akulykUSRT and @pfarrellUSRT




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