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Canalside Summer Concerts… Time To Think Big

This past week the Buffalo Common Council passed a non binding resolution recommending that the highly popular concert series at Canalside be relocated from the Central Wharf to another venue. Cited points surrounding the resolution include increased traffic, noise and complaints from the nearby Marine Drive apartment tenants.

The public backlash to posted news stories from major media outlets, and threads on social media posts, has been shrill, and in some cases very nasty. Common Council members have been derided, name calling towards the tenants at Marine Drive, as if their lower social and economic status somehow diminishes their rights. Most commenters think that the location, configuration and substance of the current concert series is just fine and should remain as is.

It is convoluted thinking.

First of all, Canalside is not a park. Let me repeat this… Canalside IS NOT A PARK. Every blade of grass down there is a development parcel. As is that massive crater in the north Aud block immediately adjacent to the faux historically-aligned canals. This is all codified in the Canalside Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) which was hammered together by many diverse stakeholders and the public and took years to achieve. The MGPP envisions a dense, vibrant setting of mixed use structures reminiscent of the old canal era. There are some projects in the pipeline, including the Explore and More Children’s Museum and Hofbrauhaus USA, although, following the typical ECHDC playbook, these structures’ development timelines are being stretched further into the future again and again.

But the sad consequence of this “lighter, quicker, cheaper” way of thinking, the snake oil which was sold to the public for a hefty six figure consulting fee, has been the evolution of Canalside into a space of flexible lawns, colorful chairs, kanjam and ping pong, and sandy play spaces. The actual “development” of permanent structures by the ECH Development C has consisted of a snack shack and nothing more.

The concerts have become so popular that they are now straining the space. Think about it – the stage brought in is a temporary one; the sound system is temporary. The port a potties are temporary. The food trucks roll in, and then they leave. And when summer turns to fall, everything is put away for the cold weather. This past summer the lawns have been wrecked repeatedly, the infrastructure is suffering damage from the strain of too many people converging on too small a space which was not initially configured as a pure concert venue. The Canalside concert series has become a victim of its own success.

So what do do?

Time to think big.

Rather than gnashing our collective teeth about the mere thought of moving those concerts away from its current stop gap venue, we need to be rethinking about Canalside and laying out its overdue development future. As for the concerts, it’s time to build a permanent concert facility and amphitheater elsewhere on the waterfront. It should be a facility with some fixed seating and standing areas, resplendent views of our water, permanent concession facilities, lighting and sound systems, and permanent washroom facilities.RiverloopAmphitheater_WaterlooCVB

Where to locate it? I am not a planner, so it’s not my call. LaSalle Park seems woefully underutilized and could be reconstituted for just such a concert configuration if laid out right. The Outer Harbor offers a myriad of opportunities, although access is still an issue, and we have yet move as a community to plan, fund and build even one bridge to move people and cars out there. The Broderick Park alternative mentioned in the Common Council resolution seems ill conceived. Simply returning it to Lafayette Square? Hmm.tuscaloosa-amphitheater

Nonetheless, with the success of the Canalside concert series, and more and more people discovering the entertainment and recreation opportunities that access to our waterfront offers, this is exactly the right time to start discussions for a top of the line and permanent outdoor stage and concert facility that will house and present summer concert programming for the long term.

Canalside and the Central Wharf is not the answer for summer concerts. Time to get plans laid out, developers lined up, and shovels in the ground for all the Canalside parcels. That is Buffalo’s future, not to settle for “lighter, quicker, cheaper” along with the voodoo of flexible lawns, triangulation and the Power of 10.

The Buffalist: Aug 31 – Sep 6


M. Gustave: I’m not angry with Serge. You can’t blame someone for their basic lack of moral fiber. He’s a frightened, little, yellow-bellied coward. It’s not his fault, is it?

Zero: I don’t know. It depends.

M. Gustave: Well, you can say that about most anything, “it depends”. Of course, it depends.

The Grand Budapest Hotel -Wes Anderson



5.  Ratatat @ The Rapids Theatre (Sep 3)

I know it’s a bit out of Buffalo, but if you have even a passing interest in electronic music you should check out Ratatat at the Rapids Theatre.  With 5 studio albums under their belt (including 2015’s well received Magnifique), Evan Mast and Mike Stroud are not afraid to push their music in interesting directions.  Deftly toeing the line at times between a little bit of punk and a bit of hip hop as well as their raison dêtre experimental electronica, Ratatat is basically perfect music for cruising through the city on a hot day.  They also have a pretty damn good and weird sense of humor.  Give them a listen and it’s hard to not be hooked.

4. BFLO Harbor Kayak @ Canalside 

Contrary to what the national media of hucksters looking for an easy laugh at our expense say, Buffalo has a summer that extends well into September.  There are still plenty of opportunities to get out and go on summer adventures.  If you haven’t had a chance yet, the best way to explore the historic Buffalo River and the Canalside Harbor is via kayak.  If you do not have your own kayak, I recommend checking out BFLO Harbor Kayak to get hooked up for your trip.  They aren’t cheap really at 20 bucks an hour, but if you have the scratch then it is absolutely worth it.  You can also do kayak tours by appointment which I bet is a blast as well.  Enjoy the summer while you can!

3. Tuesday Night Flicks ft. Grand Budapest Hotel @ Canalside (Sep 1)

Considered by some to be Wes Anderson’s finest work, The Grand Budapest Hotel is certainly his most adult-oriented feature.  It’s particularly violent, especially for a Wes Anderson movie.  It also has the most “colorful” language of his movies as well.  The Grand Budapest Hotel however is at times one of his funniest and heartfelt movies and one of my personal favorites (they are all pretty damn good).  Canalside Tuesday Night Flicks (click that link and see how packed and fun it looks) is a fantastic way to enjoy a great movie in our harbor with your fellow Buffalonians, but make sure to get down there early to snag an Adirondack chair in time for the 8:30 PM show.  I don’t know about you, but I’ll be starting at Food Truck Tuesday at Larkin first and then heading over to Canalside in time for the show.  That’s a damn great night if you ask me.    

2. The Albrights @ Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Sep 4)

As a part of the excellent M&T Bank-sponsored Free Fridays, Buffalo favorites The Albrights will fittingly be playing the Albright-Knox Art Gallery this week. The show is $5, or free for Albright Knox members. Admission to the gallery is free from 10am to 10pm, while the band goes on at 8:30. It is a phenomenal opportunity to check out the gallery if you have not done so already and a just-as-great opportunity to check back in if you haven’t been in a while. Check it out!

1.  Visit the Darwin Martin House


In case you didn’t know, we happen to have one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s finest architectural achievements right here in Buffalo.  Don’t know who Frank Lloyd Wright is?  Put Law and Order: SVU on mute for a second and read.  Just kidding, I know you’re busy. In fact, this place had been all but abandoned until the early 90’s when restoration began in earnest, so you really can’t be blamed for not knowing much about it since the City of Buffalo ignored it for decades.    

This needs to be a destination in your regular rotation for when people come in from out of town.  It was good enough for Mick Jagger, so it ought to be good enough for your relatives flying in from Ft. Lauderdale.  Get off your butts and show them why Buffalo is one of the most unique architectural destinations in the country.  Bonus points for being able to talk smartly about educated topics about Buffalo when out of town and someone talks smack about our city.  Check the tour schedule here and enjoy one of the best treasures Buffalo has to offer.


Hot Takes:  Gangstagrass @ Buffalo Ironworks (Sep 5), Summer Beach Party @ Buffalo Riverworks (Sep 6), Slyfest @ Griffis Sculpture Park (Sep 5), Steve-O @ Helium Comedy Club (Sep 3-6).

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week!

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook as well for Buffalo event updates.


Photo Gallery: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Street Dogs and Kickstart Rumble at Canalside


This past Thursday, July 8th saw the Mighty Mighty Bosstones take the stage, along with openers Street Dogs hailing from Boston, as well as local band Kickstart Rumble, earning their spot as winner of Canalside’s Ska/Punk battle of the bands. Photos by Milad Givili.

Photo Gallery: Spoon and July Talk at Canalside


Toronto band July Talk and Spoon of Austin, Texas paid a visit to Canalside this past Thursday, June 25. Photos by Milad Givili.

The Ice at Canalside: Why did this take so long to complete?


If you were one of the lucky ones who attended yesterday’s opening of the new canals on the former Aud Block at Canalside, then you know what a fabulous and magnificent event this was here in the City of Buffalo. The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation and their event management partner, Global Spectrum, absolutely nailed it. Buffalonians gathered and celebrated and gawked at what has instantly become one of the unique and distinct urban placemaking sites in the country. We can look to the future with boundless optimism as we also look to the past and cherish our history as the terminus of the Erie Canal and the gateway to the west, and our place in sports as we commemorate the former Memorial Auditorium and the magical memories of that great place.

Mark the calendar – December 18, 2014, but in reality, this very event should have taken place two years ago, in December of 2012. So what happened?

In December of 2011, the board of the ECHDC signed a $21-million contract with Dipizio Construction to erect the replica canals which are what you see today. The money came from a pot of funds made available from a relicensing agreement with the New York Power Authority. Essentially, there are dollars in place to fund pretty much all the public infrastructure improvements to the Inner and Outer Harbors, which, in theory, will encourage private investment and economic development in those long ignored yet prime real estate pieces of our city.

So with a contractor in place, work should have immediately begun on what was an eight month project, right? Wrong. Enter Sheldon Silver. The iron fisted Speaker of the Assembly at that point held things up, saying HE wanted to review the agreement and bestow his blessings. So there sat the project, languishing on the Speaker’s desk. Meanwhile, we were in the midst of one of the mildest winters in a generation. The lake never froze that year. Valuable construction time was being lost.

What was needed then was a strong and powerful rebuke from our local Assembly and Senate delegation. Our senator and our assemblyman representing downtown should have been having meltdowns and throwing a few chairs over in Albany. But amidst all this was a special election for an open assembly seat in South Buffalo and West Seneca, and the Speaker was pouring huge dollars into that campaign on behalf of the Democratic candidate. Our local politicians certainly didn’t want to upset the Speaker or rock the boat, so everyone remained silent, until Silver finally relented and gave his green light to the project.

Work on the site finally began in May of 2012. With the calendar flipped on its head, the master contractor, Dipizio Construction, ran into the following fall’s cold weather. Concrete couldn’t be poured, timetables started slipping, and it grew into a major kerfuffle with the ECHDC, who started micromanaging everything from selection of the color of the sandstone walls to all sorts of change orders to the project. By June of 2013, with the project roughly halfway finished, the ECHDC ordered Dipizio off the job site. (Dipizio is suing the Empire State Development Corporation, parent of the ECHDC, for tens of millions. We taxpayers may be on the hook big time when all this shakes out through the courts).

canal0363Throughout the entire summer of 2013, the project site sat empty and barren, while the ECHDC sought a new master contractor to finish the job. Pike Contracting out of Rochester was awarded the job in September. The rest of 2013 was devoted to erecting blue tarp fencing and pretty logos of the state and NYPA and plastering the governors name all over those fences, but little actual work took place on the canals.

Of course, we all remember the winter of 2013-14… two blizzards, one of the coldest and most miserable winter cycles in recent memory, and real work on the canals finally resumed in the spring of 2014. And that got us to the finish line. Shazzam!… An eight month project gets done in three years, with two contractors, selfish politicians, and an over-bureaucratic ECHDC serving as the major foils.

So here we are, and Canalside is a major hit with the public. Throngs of visitors partake in events and the waterfront in the summer, and it looks now that this will be the new happening winter destination as well. Yet consider this – the ECHDC has yet to erect even one permanent structure anywhere in the Inner Harbor footprint. OK, OK, one structure… the snack shack on the Central Wharf, which, by the way, is a hugely successful summer enterprise. But otherwise, Canalside is a convergence of temporary amenities – they cart in portable toilets, food trucks, stages and sound systems, vending carts, card tables and canopies, and those famed adirondack chairs, for which Fred Kent and his Project for Public Spaces crowd extorted the taxpayers for a hefty six figure consulting fee. Then when the events season ends, everything is carted away.

That is hopefully about to change, as the ECHDC promises that work will soon begin on a set of buildings on the south side of the Aud block right alongside those new canals. Three new buildings are supposedly in the final design phase – the new Explore and More Museum, which will be on the northwest corner of Main and Scott Streets (sorry Tim Horton, but your statue might have to be moved), a new restaurant situated roughly on the spot where the canal corners and jogs southward, and not to be overlooked… a comfort station and information center on the north side of Scott St. The mere concept of permanent rest rooms, and obviating the need to constantly truck in and out port-a-potties, makes this a no brainer.

But will it happen? The ECHDC’s performance record is a sketchy one. Since taking charge of the buildout of Canalside, on more than one occasion they have rolled out announcements and unveilings, only to delay the timetable, scale down the original vision, cancel plans, or a combination of these. Here are the projects in the pipeline in the coming year. Will all of these come to fruition?

1) Designs are being finalized for three buildings on the Aud Block – the Explore and More museum, a restaurant with balconies and sweeping views of the canals, and an information center/comfort station. A late spring construction start has been targeted.

2) The ECHDC has indicated that its time to issue a request for proposals for the available land parcel on the East Canal block, which is the patch of grass across from the HarborCenter and fronting the new pocket park dubbed the East Canal. Hofbrauhaus USA has indicated their interest in locating in Buffalo and has indicated that their new themed restaurant will be near Canalside. Could this location be a more perfect match? This deal needs to get finalized, and work needs to begin.

3) A contract to light up the Connecting Terminal Elevator across the Buffalo River with a kinetic light show has been issued. ECHDC President Tom Dee has stated that a July 4, 2015 unveiling is planned. This is not a simple floodlighting of this iconic structure, but an elaborate sight and sound presentation. As of now we have yet to see any actual onsite work going on over at the elevator. When will construction begin?

This rendering shows what the East Canal will look like once the buildout of the adjacent parcel is completed. Imagine patio dining along that water feature and what a great place that could become.

This rendering shows what the East Canal will look like once the buildout of the adjacent parcel is completed. Imagine patio dining along that water feature and what a great place that could become.

There is, of course, a great deal more that needs to happen… In October Buffalo was delivered the crushing news that a new grant to continue the Cars Sharing Main Street project was rejected. Phase 4 is intended to reconstruct the 400 block of Main Street as well as the lower portion of Main Street at Canalside. Let’s face it – Main Street down there is a pockmarked mess. The Erie Canal Metrorail station, even with the downsizing and a fresh coat of paint, is an ugly eyesore. Senator Charles Schumer has promised to find the federal dollars needed to make this happen. This needs to get done.

Then there is the rest of Canalside – HarborCenter John Koelmel stated in a recent Artvoice interview that “every blade of grass down here is a development parcel.” Koelmel is right. Canalside was not intended to be another waterside park, but rather, a confluence of buildings recreating the era when the Erie Canal was in its heyday. Juxtapose the glacial pace of the ECHDC project hopper next to the private sector development of HarborCenter – an incredibly complex project went from approval to design to construction to opening in 20 months. Why not issue RFP’s for every development parcel in the Inner Harbor? And another thing.. with the Ice at Canalside becoming an instant hit with the public after just one day, are we really to accept that the muddy crater on the north side of the Aud Block is to remain that way for the foreseeable future???

The team running the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation is to be commended for the progress to date. But the pace of development activity has to be picked up, and right now. They have an enormous source of funds to bring projects to fruition; they have a willing private sector partner in the Buffalo Sabres and HarborCenter. Koelmel and Development Officer Cliff Benson bring a wealth of experience to the table in getting things done, and the ECHDC needs to tap into this. And we’re not even taking into account the other stakeholders in the district who have already contributed and could be doing much, much more. The Buffalo News, Savarino Construction, The Seneca Nation, the NFTA, Ellicott Development, Uniland. Anybody being left out?

We’re finally getting the Waterfront We Deserve. But let’s not get too giddy just yet because much remains to be done. 2015 looks to be a watershed year for Canalside. And we need the ECHDC to step up their game. Right now.

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.


(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.

Canisius Hockey at HarborCenter: “The excitement was off the charts”

It's a three way ceremonial puck drop to launch the hockey era at HarborCenter this past Friday

It’s a three way ceremonial puck drop to launch the hockey era at HarborCenter this past Friday

For those coming down to Canalside on the Metrorail on Friday, now running on two tracks downtown once again after a summer of construction disruption, that’s where the energy began. Blue and gold clad Canisius students, riding downtown to check out their spiffy new digs at HarborCenter, singing and chanting on the rail car, as Canisius College opened up their new era in NCAA division 1 men’s ice hockey with back to back games.

Fans gawked and craned their necks skyward, admiring the new structure which dominates the Inner Harbor skyline. “This is what a real city feels like!” exclaimed one Canisius alum as he carried his two youngsters clad in Griffs blue and gold into the Washington Street lobby.

And so it began. A pair of sold out Canisius games in the main rink, while the first weekend of tournament play went on throughout the weekend, many staged at the adjacent rink 2. It was a beehive of activity, fresh scrubbed faces wearing the logoed jumpsuits of their teams, parents and coaches trudging behind carrying duffel bags and sticks, excited fans eagerly snapping photos and touring the new facility, the arena a sea of Canisius blue and gold, busy HarborCenter staffers running about making sure that everything was going off as smoothly as possible, and taking notes for any glitches that need to be worked out.

Canisius College played the visiting Ohio State Buckeyes from the Big 10, and on opening night blew a very early 2-0 lead to settle for a 3-3 overtime tie. It was bad news for the Griffs the following night, dropping the decision 4-1, with only a late shorthanded goal breaking up the Buckeyes shutout.

Those who were in attendance on Friday weren’t disappointed. The student section was in full throated support, not an empty seat in the house or along the standing room rails in the end zones, and after short ceremonies and ceremonial puck drops, it only took 22 seconds for Canisius’ Shane Conacher to light the lamp and score the first ever Griffs goal at HarborCenter. “We’ve been waiting all year for this thing to start, and once we learned it was sold out that brought so much more energy to the building. The crowd was awesome tonight, we wanted to bring it for them, and getting the early 2-0 lead was something really special,” said Conacher.

In the excitement of the moment, Conacher wasn’t sure if the historic puck marking the first ever goal was retrieved. “The coach was yelling, ‘get the puck! get the puck!’ I hope somebody managed to grab it,” said Conacher.

Coach Dave Smith offered vague answers as to the location of that puck, but was pretty firm as he spoke about the buzz and energy that made the first game and the historic first weekend at their new facility so memorable. “The energy in the building was so noticeable that before the puck drop, the referee came and said, ‘there is so much energy in here, we don’t want to take it away. Let’s let ’em play.’ And they did. And it went back and forth. And that’s what made it special. The excitement was off the charts,” said Smith.

Canisius College Athletic Director Bill Maher spent much of his weekend at both games greeting students, alums, guests and fans while checking up on things throughout the building, and taking on many media requests for interviews. “You start out with a lot of excitement when it comes to a new facility, and then when it comes to the first day there’s a lot of concern, because you have a lot of things you need to pull off and make sure your customers have a good experience, but that transitions into when you start the game you have a lot of electricity and excitement in the building,” said Maher.

This was a long time coming for Canisius, whose hockey program once played at the Nichols rink, and then at Buffalo State College, both facilities many notches below the emerging and growing standards of a division 1 team. “It’s just the next step for the growth of our program. They feel very, very at home. They are very proud of it themselves. Our coaches can recruit to that (the HarborCenter), they can develop the young men here, they can train here. This will pay dividends on so many levels.”

Maher is optimistic that attendance for Canisius hockey will spike at HarborCenter, with the team having averaged just about 700 fans per game at the old facility. “Our first games are already sold out, our next two games on November 14 and 15 against RIT are selling very, very well, and those fans travel very well, so I anticipate those games will be sellouts as well.”

Traveling well. So what impact is HarborCenter already making on the downtown scene? HarborCenter president John Koelmel replies, “Our five hotel partners (Hyatt, Adams Mark, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn and Courtyard by Marriott) are fully booked this weekend. Our ice sheets are completely spoken for and in fact oversubscribed until past April 1.” Koelmel then added, “Visiting teams who are participating in the tournaments are not just asking for rooms. They want to be downtown, not out in the suburbs. They want to fully take in the ‘Buffalo Experience’ and all that our city has to offer. And yes, we are going to deliver just that, for them. And for us.”

The next big thing at HarborCenter will be this Friday’s public opening of 716 Food and Sport, the glitzy new sports restaurant fronting on the corner of Washington and Scott. Several of 716’s food offerings are on the menu at the HarborCenter rinks concession stands, ranging from beef on weck to chicken finger subs to caesar salad to fruit smoothies in a variety of flavors. Judging from the long lines the fare was a big hit with the patrons. “We’re taking downtown and Canalside to a whole new level,” promised Koelmel. “Who could possibly criticize this building? Who could possibly take issue with what we have accomplished here in such a short period of time? And get ready. There’s much more to come.”

HarborCenter miscellany…
-Entry to the building is via two lobbies: one fronting Washington Street and the other on Main Street. The Main Street entrance is masked by jersey barriers and fencing, still in place as construction on the hotel continues. The (not well marked) path is accessed right by the tunnel at Main and Perry Sts.

-Two full service concession stands in place to serve fans. The one in the end zone at ice level (level 6) is not easy to find, and best accessed via an obscure staircase in the north end zone. A merchandise shop selling HarborCenter logo apparel and other souvenirs is also tucked away on level 6.

-Seating bowl needs a scoreboard at both ends. And a working shots on goal clock.

-Parking at the HarborCenter ramp was free for opening weekend, and there will be a nominal $3 charge for future Canisius hockey events. Still to be sorted out is how the parking will work when both Canisius College and the Buffalo Sabres play games at the same time. There are three such dates on the schedule.

-Doing the public address announcing at Canisius hockey games is none other than Buffalo Bisons Public Relations director Brad Bisbing, who does a solid job on the mic. If you’re hoping for annoying and screeching, though, Bisbing will probably disappoint you. But worry not, for Buffalo Bandits season opens in two months.

-There are still pockets of HarborCenter that are a full fledged construction zone, and we’re not talking about the hotel tower. The Main Street lobby is still encased in drywall, ceiling tiles are missing at several of the parking levels, the Mercantile Exchange retail space on Main is a vacant shell, and we’re wondering if a full fledged ticket office and windows are in the cards anywhere in the building. Crews are racing by the day to place finishing touches on a whole punch list of uncompleted spaces both inside and outside.

-Download the 716 Food and Sport mobile app. Customers will be available to make table reservations on the app, although that feature was not functional as of today.

-“716 Poutine” is available and sold at the full service concession stand on the concourse level. You’re welcome.


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