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Future of Webster Block brighter, thanks to vision of Pegula

When it comes to development of downtown Buffalo, projects move either with seamless efficiency or agonizing vagueness.

The announcement made last week that the city had accepted Terry Pegula’s plan for the brass ring known as the Webster Block was a refreshing dose of the former.

The only person disappointed by the move was the free-spending Carl Paladino, whose proposal was rejected. His mistake was including office space at a time and a place where it is not in demand. The HSBC Tower, just a slap shot away, has plenty of doors marked “for rent” and more on the way as the international bank and other tenants slip out of town.

But back to the good news.

Pegula, owner of the Buffalo Sabres, and HARBORcenter Development LLC, won the development rights for the 1.7-acre parcel, which sits adjacent to the First Niagara Center.

The plan is to build two ice rinks, a hotel, a New Era flagship store, a Tim Hortons restaurant and a new underground parking garage for a total estimated project cost of $123 million, according to the Sabres’ website.

Pegula said the project will enhance the current development at Canalside and in the process, create a destination attraction to Buffalo’s waterfront on an annual basis.

“Canalside has seen a rebirth the past few years and we expect our project to act as a catalyst for future development on the waterfront,” he said.

Once complete, the facilities are expected to create 350 full-time jobs and generate $4.1 million in state and local taxes, $48 million over the next decade, officials said.

Even better than the underground parking garage is the walkway connecting the new building to the First Niagara Center. For hotel guests, store or restaurant patrons and anyone who parks there, this means no more red-faced walks into the icy wind of winter. That alone is enough of a reason to vote for the Pegula plan.

It is far superior to what Paladino envisioned. His Plan B featured an 11-story, 140-room hotel, 42 apartments, 110,000 square feet of office space, restaurants, retail operations and underground parking. However, it’s encouraging that Paladino showed such interest in a downtown project.

His firm, Ellicott Development, is currently constructing a hotel on Main Street in Amherst, a few hundred yards from the edge of the Village of Williamsville.

HARBORcenter is expected to be complete within three years. Just the presence of major league construction equipment in the Canalside area will elevate Western New York residents to a plateau that few have ever seen.

It’s about time. It makes the scheme to build a Bass Pro Shop at the site of the old Memorial Auditorium sound like a bad civics project.

It will be extremely difficult for HARBORcenter officials to avoid making it a shrine to hockey in general and the Sabres in particular. Personally, I see it as a shrine to the region but would avoid the urge to make it a history lesson. It’s not a Disney World.

We have the Naval & Military Park adjacent to the First Niagara Center, so any military theme to the site would be redundant. My choice would be to offer a glimpse of the origin of the Erie Canal, which formerly ran nearby.

It’s the perfect connection to the Commercial Slip.

New York Gov. De Witt Clinton broke ground for the canal on July 4, 1817.

When it was completed in 1825, some wide-eyed historians called it “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” I sense some form of an anniversary celebration – at HARBORcenter.

Save a corner of the hotel lobby for some equine artifacts. Horse collars would be nice. I also see wagon wheels, oil lamps and a ship’s wheel. And old maps and charts.

And honestly, who could resist the chance to have a drink at a Buffalo waterfront tavern named “Clinton’s Ditch?” It sells itself.

Thank you, Terry Pegula and HARBORcenter Development LLC for a dream come true.

Has anyone heard from Tom Golisano lately?
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