Cliff Benson from HarborCenter leads the tour this afternoon at the project site
It’s probably one of the most exciting construction projects to ever hit downtown Buffalo. HarborCenter, the multipurpose twin hockey rink, hotel, parking structure, and adjoining restaurant and other retail space, is rising quickly at the foot of Main Street adjacent to the First Niagara Center. Today representatives of the Buffalo Sabres and Mortensen Construction, the general contractor on the project, took members of the media on a “hard hat tour” to update the construction progress on the facility.
“We’re right on schedule, not ahead of schedule, but things are progressing nicely and we’re on track for a September 2014 opening for the entire facility except for the hotel, which will open nine months later,” said John Koelmel, who along with Cliff Benson and Sabres PR members showed off the building and updated the progress to date.
Mortensen Construction is finishing work on the new Pegula Arena in State College, Pennsylvania, the new home of the Penn State Division 1 ice hockey program, and Benson admits that this project is far more more challenging. “There are so many different components, so many moving parts here.The complexity of this compared to Penn State is far higher. Although we are moving along on the same aggressive timeline. The attitude on the job site is fantastic. They learned a lot of stuff from the Penn State experience and are bringing it to this project,” said Benson.
Indeed, some of the nuances learned from peer projects have been incorporated at HarborCenter. On the Washington Street side is the footer for a specially outsized freight elevator. Why so big? “We need this size to be able to transport a Zamboni machine up to the sixth floor to where the hockey rinks will be situated,” explained Ryan Poropat, Superintendent of the project for Mortensen. Poropat, who has worked on many large scale sports construction projects, including the Olympic Stadium in London, was quick to point out some of the nuances of the construction, including a special footer in the northwest corner of the structure near Main and Scott Streets, which serve as the base for the elevator towers which will serve the hotel.
Looking north from the third floor deck of HarborCenter, One Canalside is rapidly nearing completion on the other side of Scott Street
A new rendering of the building is on display high up in the pavilion at First Niagara Center, and will greet fans coming to the Sabres home opener this Friday against the Ottawa Senators. One area of the building for which substantive drawings have not been revealed are streetscape renderings of the Main Street side, and the sports themed restaurant planned for the northeast corner on Washington and Scott Streets.
Koelmel stated that plans are still being refined for the restaurant, which HarborCenter will own and operate, as opposed to leasing out the space to outside parties. He promised that more information on this component of the facility will be unveiled “in the next 30 to 45 days, tops.” Harbor Center officials had previously revealed that they had made several excursions to Toronto’s Real Sports Restaurant, an upscale sports bistro operated by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and are looking to create a similar atmosphere and buzz here.
As for the tenant mix anticipated for the street level of the facility, Koelmel replied, “We’re fairly well advanced with our thinking and our dialogue relative to the (restaurant) tenant at Main and Scott. We’ve just started our process for tenants at this end of the building which is at Main and Perry, we’ve had numerous inquiries from protective tenants as to who wants to partner with us and that dialogue and discussion is just now advancing.” Benson added, “We’ve been working with the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation on all these things. We want this to be as user friendly as possible in terms of the pedestrian experience. We have to deal with traffic flow, how people get in and out of these facilities, it’s a little different than Chippewa Street when you have 15-20,000 people moving in and out at one time. But certainly, friendly to the environment down here, absolutely what we want to do here. We want to create a hospitality area here that connects with everything else that is going on across the street, wheat’s going on down here. That is the ultimate goal.
“We’re more than just sensitive to this issue of street friendly design,” added Koelmel. We’re fully engaged with the Canal Harbor people, with Benderson Development, Sam Savarino and others. Our focus is on the district, not just on the project. Fast forward to fall of 2014. Both canal projects will be done. The area around us continues to develop. Sam (Savarino) just opened up a new facility on Illinois Street the other night. The new casino is now open. The NFTA station renovation? That is not coincidental. We’re fully engaged with our district partners to make this experience as user friendly as it can be. We want people to come and come again and come again.”
Other items of interest on the project:
-The crane closest to the arena will be dismantled by next summer, while the second tall crane near Scott Street will continue functioning until next fall, continuing the buildout of the hotel structure which will reach 18 stories.
-Perry Street will be reopened to traffic once HarborCenter opens next September. A skywalk about 25 feet wide will connect the third level of the structure with the second floor of the First Niagara Center pavilion.
-Between 100-110 construction workers are on site at the HarborCenter on any given days.
- The Sabres are in the early stages of thinking where the main marquee for the First Niagara Center will be situated. Once the HarborCenter structure is fully in place, the marquee high top the arena will be largely obstructed from view.
- There will be hockeycentric store for equipment sales and repairs up on the rink level.
“This is moving along as fast as any construction project in the country,” said Benson. “It’s already started at a tremendous pace. We’re somewhat dependent on winter weather but we’re on schedule and ready to go.”