Standing at a corner of the Webster Block site in downtown Buffalo that will soon become home to his unique $123 development project known as HARBORcenter, Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula recalled a time in his life when he saw firsthand how a city began to reform its tarnished image.
“When I first went to Pittsburgh in the early 70’s, it was a dingy steel town. Through their sports teams, and through a lot of hard work and dedication by people like the mayor and the citizens, they transformed the image of the city,” Pegula said Monday at a press conference alongside Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. “I’ve seen it happen. Maybe I’m dating myself now, but just because this is Buffalo doesn’t mean it can’t happen here too.”
Pegula is hoping that HARBORcenter can be the catalyst for continuing to grow Buffalo, while adding critical mass to the Canalside waterfront area that is already undergoing significant construction at both The Aud site and Donovan Building.
“When I did buy the Sabres, part of my aspiration was to help the area; help some employment. This project that the city has so graciously given and handed off to us – against some pretty stiff competition from others – we’re very proud to carry it forward - Terry Pegula, Sabres Owner
The mixed-use facility will house two hockey rinks, hotel, restaurant, retail space and parking ramp directly across the street from First Niagara Center. Groundbreaking will take place this spring, with the rinks, restaurant, retail and parking schedule to open in September 2014. The entire complex is expected to be fully operational by the spring of 2015.
It is estimated that HARBORcenter will attract 500,000 visitors annually, with the rinks primarily being used by youth and adult leagues. Pegula also said the Sabres have been in discussions with Canisius College to have HARBORcenter become their home rink, and didn’t rule out having the complex play a major role in the bid processes for attracting events like the NCAA Frozen Four and IIHF World Junior Championship.
“When I did buy the Sabres, part of my aspiration was to help the area; help some employment. This project that the city has so graciously given and handed off to us – against some pretty stiff competition from others – we’re very proud to carry it forward,” stated Pegula. “We always use the term ‘a destination to play hockey’ for the Buffalo area, so this is going to add to the ‘aura’ of coming here to play if you’re a professional player.”
Pegula knows those professional dreams begin at a young age. Youth hockey players from all over the world will have the opportunity to play in games and tournaments at the HARBORcenter rinks, providing even more exposure to Buffalo and the Sabres organization.
“I made a comment at the draft this year to my guys that were sitting at the table. We’re sitting out there on the floor when the 12th pick is announced as the Buffalo Sabres, and I said to Darcy Regier, ‘You know what? We want to eventually have a bunch of young guys sitting up in the stands saying “C’mon! Please, please!’” Doing things like this start you down that road in a very powerful way. It sends a message.”
The most immediate impact of the project will be felt with the closing of the parking lot that now sits on the Webster block property, eliminating more than 200 daily use parking spots. This lot is also used for Sabres games and all other arena events, and is usually filled to capacity each night. There will also be times when construction will affect traffic on Washington Street between Scott and Perry. Pegula said this is something they have taken into consideration.
“I don’t know exactly how we minimize the impact while we’re doing the construction. I’ve thought about it quite a bit. I guess that’s something for our planners to do.”