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Tim Bits

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All of these sketches were done in the last week by Marquil at EmpireWire.com

 

 

 

 

 


12 Years a Sabre

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Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com


The Webster Block: Tielman’s Critique of the Sabres’ Plan

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.

Here’s the presentation.

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.

 

 


Surface Parking Protectionism

The image shown above is a rendering of the HARBORcenter – the Sabres’ proposed hotel, restaurant, retail, and indoor hockey destination planned for construction on the long-abandoned Webster Block.  It’s no Fallingwater, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s not ugly and it’s wholly functional, and will bring people and their money to a fledgling entertainment district that’s growing in fits and starts of its own accord. 

Buffalo antideveloper Tim Tielman has started a company named after the “neighborhood workshops” that have been part and parcel of the formulation and implementation of Buffalo’s soon-to-be “Green Code” zoning law. On Tuesday, Tielman, on behalf of his “Neighborhood Workshop, LLC” appeared before the Planning Board to complain about how the Pegula-led “HARBORCenter” project for the Webster Block isn’t pretty enough for him and his clientHi-Temp Fabrications, which occupies an eyesore across the street from an HSBC Atrium surface lot. 

Four speakers, including the owner of a neighboring business, spoke against the project during a City Hall public hearing today.

Speakers said the development would contribute to congestion and that it did not resemble historic architecture styles.

“The central planning issue that we’re facing in Buffalo today … is how to connect downtown to the waterfront,” said Tim Tielman, whose Neighborhood Workshop consultancy developed an alternative concept on behalf of John and Shelley McKendry, who own Hi-Temp Fabrication, at 79 Perry St. Tielman said the project adds to the separation of downtown and the water, as the Skyway does.

Yes, it’s time to hold our horses and literally obstruct something being planned imminently to replace a surface parking lot.  Perhaps we can make it more historically interpretive by adding hay bales and hitching posts? A museum of downtown surface parking might be good for the cultural tourists? Or maybe we can just re-pave and re-stripe the lot? Perhaps we can retain Fred Kent and his extortionate traveling “placemaking” salon to discuss “flexible lawns” and colorful benches? Where are the solar-powered carousels?

Better yet, maybe we can tell the Sabres to go to hell and construct some ugly hodgepodge of buildings with outdoor rinks as an afterthought up on the roof. 

Mr. Tielman and his uncharacteristically disclosed patrons are coming to protect downtown’s connection to the waterfront – that is, if you ignore the fact that the railyard and the really big hockey arena both do that very thing already. 

Who are we in Buffalo to expect or want a nice hotel and hockey facility to help build on a solid entertainment district foundation now anchored by CanalSide, First Niagara Center, and Helium Comedy Club? 

If Hi-Temp Fabrications wants to weigh in on a development’s design, it should invest in the development or buy the parcel. The 11th hour unwanted micromanagement of a $170 million hockey destination and for what? For this eyesore, which looks like a Crayola marker box come to life; Curaçao by the Arena.

 

 This isn’t a case for historic preservation or even one where a better design is being proposed in place of an existing one. This is about ego, power, and subjective design prejudices. That hotel would look great in coastal Florida. In 1977. Those little phony colorful row houses look as stupid as they do out of place. The idea of outdoor rinks completely flies in the face of the Sabres’ intent – to design a destination Division 1 AAA hockey facility to attract tournaments of all ages from all over. Just leave the Sabres alone. When it comes to attracting people and money, they’ve already got things figured out pretty well. 


Battlezone: Webster Block

Late last week, two proposals to redevelop the Webster Block – across from the First Niagara Center and Canal Side – were put before the public. Physically similar, the major differences between the two plans is that one includes publicly accessible indoor ice rinks, costs more money, will take longer to build, and relies more heavily on public money. 

Submitting the two proposals for public vetting and comment, for the use of land the City currently holds, is laudable. However, I will be not at all surprised to see it devolve right into bitter litigation, because of the ease with which that can happen, and stymie the whole project. It’s cost of doing business in our so-called “lighter, cheaper, faster” placemaking/crowdsourcing development culture in contemporary Buffalo. It’s also why our skyline has not changed significantly since the 1960s. 

First, the Sabres’ proposal. Costing over $123 million, with a promise of 450 permanent jobs, “HarborCenter” is projected to open in mid-2015, include two ice rinks, and rely somewhat heavily on public incentives and subsidies, although the exact figure hasn’t been determined.  It features a sports bar, hotel space, retail space, and a 965-space parking garage. 

Next, here’s a proposal put forth by “Webster Block, LLC”, a joint venture led by Carl Paladino’s Ellicott Development. It features retail space, residential condos, a hotel, office space, and 1,089-space parking garage. 

 

Recognizing that design is largely subjective, I somewhat prefer the Paladino proposal. I don’t like the overuse of brick in every new development save the Avant, and these two proposals incorporate that. The archways over the street-level retail in the Paladino plan, along with the awnings and other features one typically sees in big-city urban developments appeal to me. I have seen some criticism about the visibility of the parking ramp in the Paladino proposal, but the Sabres’ renderings seem to conveniently omit that, so Webster Block, LLC gets points for transparency on that point. 

But the brick-and-windows designs are, to me, so late-80s post-modern. The clean simplicity of the Avant should be a model for contemporary high-rise design in Buffalo. This all looks like an NYU or BU dorm, ca. 1986. 

Aside from money and the need for subsidies, the major difference here is the Sabres’ inclusion of two rinks. I think it’s a pretty neat idea, especially if there’s non-hockey related just general skate time available to local and visiting families. Adding amateur hockey space to downtown is clearly a positive, and would be a great asset to have to attract league play and tournaments to downtown. 

But either way, Buffalo wins. This isn’t currently a site, but a blight; another surface parking lot in a city jam-packed with them. It’s the site where the Adelphia Tower was supposed to go – first 40 stories, then 15, then zero as Adelphia went out of business, in disgrace during the last decade.  Anticipating complaints about parking – of course you need parking. It’s not the existence of parking that’s bad, but its visibility and use – a surface lot is an utter waste of space, but a parking garage nestled within a larger project and hidden from view is an absolute necessity. Anticipating complaints about the historic nature of the site of some sort, any such complaints would be disingenuous nonsense. No one moaned about historical significance during the decades during which it was a parking lot. Is someone going to complain that it should be a replica of the original Webster Block? A low grouping of brownstone warehouses

Either proposal would enhance the area around the Arena and Canal Side. Either proposal would be a net plus for the inner harbor area of downtown Buffalo. Either proposal would be a welcome change from the status quo. We have to get past the mentality where one person can halt civic progress for the public benefit with one lawsuit. I wonder if we’ll get there with this project. 

Looking up Main Street 1905 (Shorpy.com)

If you want to add your two cents, you can email the city at websterblockrfp@city-buffalo.com.


The Daily Five – Top 5 Good News Stories in Buffalo 2011

As a blogger, my tendency is to criticize and write about issues I feel need to be addressed or things that need to be improved. Rarely do I take the opportunity to write about the positive news and events that happen in Buffalo and WNY each and every day. Maybe I need to shake it up a bit, eh?

However, there is one talented writer who spends all of his energy documenting why this region is an awesome place to live, work, and play. His name is Seamus Gallivan and he is the editor of a fantastic website called The Good Neighborhood.

His website is a daily read for me and I encourage you to add it to your daily media diet as well, maybe even add his site on Facebook.  Gallivan’s mission for “the good hood”?

The Good Neighborhood is all about community, and we want everyone to participate –

  • Read and comment on the stories!
  • Submit ideas and original work in the spirit of Gathering for the Greater Good!
  • Advertise your business through spots and sponsored content!
  • Spread the good word about The Good Hood!

So when it came time to write up the top five good news stories of the year? Well, Seamus was the first guy I thought could give this story angle the love it needed. Primarily because he’s the happiest guy I know and he and his website can put a big time hop in your step.

Waterfront Activity, Finally

As the battling and bickering wages over what we could have, should have, and have to be doing to earn our city a waterfront worth talkin’ proud about, major movement was made this summer to bring a critical mass of people to Canalside – it’s finally becoming an actual destination, thanks in great part to public input.

A flurry of free programming, from small-scale concerts with historical context to the Explore and More Children’s Museum and Tifft Nature Preserve presentations, was met with festivals such as Pride and the Great Lakes Experience and the ballyhooed move of Thursday at the Square, all of which got a lot of people poking around the water far more often than before. Naysayers whined over $46 tickets to see the Tragically Hip there, only to see it sell out without worry and become the event of the summer.

Buffalo Riverfest aka Peg’s Park opened just down the Buffalo River past the Edward M. Cotter; On the Water Productions held events such as the Outer Harbor Fest at the Seaway Piers; the Queen City Water Ferry is open and hopin’ to have more places to take people; and the Buffalo Main Lighthouse is finally accessible again to the public – we have a long way to go and there’s a lot of public money flying around, so may the watchdogs keep sniffing, and whiners keep sniffling, and the powers-that-be keep listening.

Buffalo Green Code Changing our Landscape

I’ll admit that until this year, I didn’t know nor care much about zoning codes. But part of caring about Buffalo and atoning for our past mistakes is fixing our way-outdated and misguided codes, and the city’s Office of Strategic Planning has made the planning process for the historic Buffalo Green Code educational and engaging enough for ignorant schmucks like me to learn and participate to the point of coming away fired up about the public’s role in shaping our city as a national leader in 21st century land use.

They’ve pounded the pavement to get public input, from nine neighborhood meetings earlier in the year, to meeting with community action organizations and last month revealing the results of our feedback and how they plan on moving ahead – if you care at all about reshaping neighborhoods, reusing abandoned land, removing horribly-placed highways, and redefining Buffalo, get hip to the Buffalo Green Code, and get involved while it’s still in development.

Amherst Street Emerges

When I moved back to Buffalo in late 2009 and set out to launch The Good Neighborhood, the first person I sought for support was Sportsmens Tavern owner Dwane Hall. Hall has taken an unassuming hole in the wall in Black Rock and made it first a formidable music venue free of riff-raff, and since a favorite destination for touring musicians who draw fans from hundreds of miles away. In a neighborhood belittled as rundown and unsafe, the 28-year family-run “Honkiest, Tonkiest Beer Joint in Town” is undergoing a six-figure expansion and has never been robbed.

“I think they think I’m cool because of the music,” Hall says of the neighborhood ne’er-do-wells…sure, that and the fact that the Stone Country stalwart and Marine Corps vet can’t feel some of his knuckles from putting their predecessors in their place.

The Sportsmens, as reigning Grant-Amherst Association Business of the Year, is an anchor in an emerging Amherst Street scene that has welcomed new tenants this year from taverns Rohall’s Corner and Black Rock Kitchen & Bar to buzz-builders such as Delish Cooking School & Pastry Shop and an expanded arts presence around Artsphere and 464 Gallery.

In the City of No Illusions, Amherst Street is real, receiving, and rising.

The Sabres Assert Themselves as Top Dogs

First off, owners don’t win championships – players do, and the Buffalo Sabres are not currently playing like champions. But new owner Terry Pegula is putting pressure on the players by putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to winning, investing on and off the ice to assert the franchise as an industry leader, including a red carpet for one of the Sabres’ greatest assets – its alumni.

Image courtesy of http://clarencegrad72.blogspot.com

In The Good Neighborhood, we leave the reporting of game scores and stats to other publications – our interest is in what the team and players are doing in the community, and there is no better story from this past year than the rapid rise of the Miracle League of Western New York and Sabres’ role in it.

The Miracle League is a baseball league for special needs kids with a motto of “Every Child Deserves a Chance to Play Baseball,” enabled by a custom rubberized playing surface that literally levels the playing field to alleviate mobility issues. Building a field is expensive, and of the three communities in which I’ve been involved with the emergence of the Miracle League, Western New York got the field built the fastest. With an incredibly united front on Grand Island that got the land in Veterans Park and the crew to build it, The Buffalo Sabres Alumni and Sabres Foundation stepped in with a pledge of $150,000, enabling the field to open in August – from conception to fruition in half the time it takes most communities.

One might ask what our hockey team is doing funding baseball leagues, and the answer is simple – the Buffalo Sabres care about more than hockey; they care about Western New York.

“This field in the best way encapsulates for me and my teammates what we love about Buffalo,” Sabres Alumni President Larry Playfair told me on the day the field opened. “People ask us, ‘Why stay in Buffalo when you can go anywhere?’ This is why.

“…Folks throughout Western New York who bought those raffle tickets [at Sabres and World Juniors games] chipped into this, and that feels good,” Playfair added. “The contractors, bricklayers, cement pourers – the people who built this field come from both Erie and Niagara counties. This is a Western New York effort.”

You and Who is Born

I first met You and Who Founder and President Dan Gigante in early 2010 at a New Era bubble hockey tournament. After I explained my goals with The Good Neighborhood, he said he was the guy at local internet solutions firm Clevermethod who handles all their community initiatives, arguably spending too much time on them. A few months later, he orchestrated a buyout from the company he co-founded in order to launch You and Who, an apparel company that for every purchase donates matching items or meals to organizations that help neighbors in need, inspired by “buy one, give one” models such as Tom’s Shoes. You and Who’s main product so far is t-shirts, most designed by artists and others bearing messages such as, “Two People are Wearing This Shirt.”

In addition to working with Western New York artists, organizations such as Compass House and Buffalo City Mission, and outlets from Thursday at the Square to his display today at the Walden Galleria, Gigante launched You and Who in a handful of cities around the country, and this fall trekked to 30 cities in 90 days to forge new partnerships. For example, if you purchase a shirt designed by an artist in Austin, the artist will receive a commission and the extra shirt will be donated to a local cause such as ARCH – Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.

Follow Gigante and You and Who in The Good Neighborhood with his weekly “You and Who’sday” report every Tuesday.


Sabres Bedeviled!!

bufsabs

 

 

The “Animal House” clip of John Belushi (Over!! Nothing is over until WE decide it is!!) and the strains of Pearl Jam’s “I’m Still Alive” raged overhead as the puck was dropped for tonight’s Sabres/Devils game.

 

And why not? After being left for dead just a few days ago, the Sabres headed into the game in control of their playoff destiny. Despite being four points behind the eighth placed Rangers and two back of ninth place Florida, the games in hand that they have over New York and Florida combined with tiebreaking rules gave the Sabres the edge amongst them.

 

And so the stage was set for tonight’s match featuring a reeling Devils club and the Buffalo side on a roll with just an overtime loss blemishing their last five games.

 

So what happens? The Devils edge the Sabres 3-2 by playing classic New Jersey hockey for two periods, then holding off a furious Sabres charge as the game wound down.

 

The Sabres fell behind within the first six minutes of the game on a pair of Devil goals by David Clarkson and Zach Parise. Jamie Langenbrunner would add another near the seven minute mark of the second period and from then on the Devils went into their shutdown mode.

 

If you’ve been a follower of the NHLyou know what I’m referring to…the kind of game which makes it seem as if the guys in red and black have about seven or eight guys on the ice whenever Buffalo has the puck. Constantly harassing the man bringing the puck up ice, allowing little room for shots coming from the blue line to get through. It had the makings of an ugly rout of the blue and gold on this night.

 

 Then came the final stanza…..

 

It started in bizarre fashion with Michael Tellqvist starting the game in net. According to both Miller and Lindy Ruff it was a move “to shake things up a bit, get something going” and unrelated to any physical problem Miller may have.

 

It may have worked, as the Sabres scored goals coming from Jochen Hecht and Clarke McArthur to draw within one with under four minutes to play. And in the game’s final minutes it was all Sabres. Derek Roy missed a gigantic opportunity with about two minutes go, missing from point blank range directly in front of the net. And when the Devils were called for delay of game with a half minute to go, there was a last ditch six on four opportunity for Buffalo. But the Devils won the faceoffs and the final score stood.

 

Afterwards, Ruff attributed some of the team’s success to shortening the bench a bit. “When we got down to three lines, we got a little more rhythm”. And concerning Miller on the bench he also added that ” we have seven games in eleven nights.” alluding to giving Miller a little rest.

 

Other notes:

 

Tim Connolly tends to be reviled for being soft. But who is the first person(again) to step in when someone tries to take out Ryan Miller? Yep, Connolly. He drew a four minute roughing penalty after hammering Zach Parise from behind following Parise’s mixup with Miller behind the net.

 

A town devastated by horrific tragedy of national attention and left emotionally reeling. Their local pro hockey team plays a big game under incredibly somber circumstances and pulls out a critical victory.

 

Buffalo: February 13th? Nope…Binghamton: April 4th, as the B-Sens capitalized on the energy of the crowd after a game tying shorthanded goal to explode for three more in a ten minute span of the second period, surging them to a 5-2 win over the Albany River Rats. The win keeps them one point ahead of Philadelphia for the final playoff spot in the AHL’s East Division with three games to go in the regular season.

 

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the City of Binghamton and  those affected by the terrifying and tragic incident there on Friday…


Echo Chamber: News You Could Have Read Anywhere

Outer Harbor

  • The sluggish bureaucracy that is the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) is finally surrendering control of the Outer Harbor, upon which it has sat for nigh on 55 years. The deal, which will lease 111 acres of “prime” waterfront land to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC), has been in the works for a year and a half. There’s a good possibility of an outright sale of the land at the end of the five-year lease. The two parties signed a memorandum of understanding Monday and hope to complete the transfer by sometime this summer. In the meantime, the ECHDC plans to start “greening” the parcel (no small task) and will soon begin work on a $13.6M “green belt walkway” around the property, which should be completed later this spring.
  • The New York Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 2-1 OT decision last night, lifting them above the Sabres’ reach. As it stands right now, there are only three teams the Sabres can surpass—Boston, Washington and Philadelphia—and they must beat out two of them to make the playoffs. They face the Maple Leafs tonight at 7:30pm.
  • The water wars continue out West, and the biggest losers, it’s no surprise, is wildlife in all of its forms. (In the long, arduous march of human history, that’s always been the case, hasn’t it?) In this case, we’re talking about fish. Prize, cold-water Montana trout. The biggest worry for the fish is that small streams will simply dry up in late summer, and those that don’t will reach lethally high temperatures. Scientists project that Western trout populations in general will drop by as much as 60 percent in some areas, and 90 percent or more of bull trout will die off by 2050. Up to 40 percent of salmon could disappear. The changes are already hitting Montana’s grayling populations, which have dropped by 75 percent or more in the past decade, as temps have risen by an average of 2 percent. (This post continues; click to read more…)



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