It’s the final sprint at HarborCenter - The Buffalo News

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It’s the final sprint at HarborCenter

HarborCenter is virtually a round-the-clock construction job, as workers hustle to keep close to a deadline that has been pushed back – slightly – twice. The rush is on to make up time lost during the harsh winter.

The Canisius College hockey team will now open its season on National Hockey League ice in First Niagara Center, a few hundred feet from the rink that it will eventually call home. The team is scheduled to play its first game in HarborCenter on Halloween, almost a month later than planned.

To hit the new deadline, the work site is active for 21 hours a day, starting as early as 4 a.m. and finishing as late as 1 or 1:30 a.m., said Ryan Poropat, lead project supervisor for Mortenson Construction, the general contractor.

“From where we were two months ago, from this point forward, it’s absolutely, positively achievable and realistic that, without a doubt, we’ll be making that date,” he said.

About 450 workers are on the job, pushing to finish most of the Buffalo Sabres’ mixed-use facility’s features by late October. Retail space is expected to open late this year, and a hotel is scheduled to debut next spring.

When the project was launched, the goal was to open most of the complex in September. But the fierce winter disrupted that timeline, and the target was eventually changed first to early October and then late October.

But making the latest deadline will take a heavy push. To a visitor, it’s hard to believe that within a few weeks, (716) Food and Sport will be serving meals and Canisius will be playing hockey games inside the complex, given the amount of work that remains.

But Poropat said plans are on target. “When we have good weather, we work; that’s for sure,” he said.

All told, the 20-story, $172.2 million mixed-use facility will include two full-size NHL ice rinks on the sixth floor, retail space, a 205-room Marriott Buffalo HarborCenter Hotel, a 750-space parking ramp, the two-story (716) restaurant, and a two-story commemorative Tim Hortons. HarborCenter officials Thursday showcased progress at the site, while the workers were treated to lunch.

“These men and women are just phenomenal – the passion and the pride that they continue to bring every day, the hustle,” said John R. Koelmel, president of HarborCenter. “We’ve got 60 days round numbers, plus or minus, to go. This is the wind sprint to the starting line, and they’re all hustling with a sense of pride, not just a sense of urgency.”

Koelmel did not announce any retailers that will move into the Canalside district complex, but he called the retail component “really, really important” for making the development “a destination.” He said he prefers six or seven stores, instead of just one big tenant. The retailers would fill what could be as much as 10,000 square feet – when including a mezzanine to maximize the space – on the side facing Main Street. Koelmel said retailers are already showing interest.

Over the next several years, Koelmel said, he pictures making an additional 20,000 square feet of retail space available at First Niagara Center. HarborCenter connects to the NHL arena by an elevated crosswalk across Perry Street.

Among the elements of the complex under construction:

• The (716) restaurant will include three bars and a 33-foot-wide, 13-foot- high video screen over the main bar. There will be about 60 other televisions throughout the establishment, said Jayme Couch, assistant project manager for Mortenson. The main entrance will be at Scott and Washington streets.

• The featured ice arena will seat 1,800 people; an adjacent rink will seat 135. The NHL-size ice surfaces are on the sixth floor, so games will be played at the same elevation as the top of Coca-Cola Field’s roof, just down the street. Project officials were careful to build an elevator large enough to fit a Zamboni – a lesson they learned from touring an ice complex built in Washington, D.C., that failed to do so.

HarborCenter will be the home arena for Canisius, Erie Community College and the Junior Sabres, and will also host college and amateur hockey tournaments.

The complex will host the NHL’s annual Scouting Combine for the next two years. Along with high school, college and amateur games, HarborCenter will host the Under-18 Women’s World Championships in January and the World Paralympic Ice Sledge Championships in April 2015.

Mayor Byron W. Brown said the project had recorded 24 percent minority-owned and 6 percent women-owned business participation. And 90 percent of the project’s workforce consists of area residents, far exceeding the goal of 75 percent, Brown said.

“This is a project that is adding to the tremendous momentum that we are seeing throughout the City of Buffalo,” Brown said.

Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, called HarborCenter “a huge statement for the region, not only for the revitalization of the waterfront but really, positioning Buffalo as sort of Hockeytown USA.”

Gallagher-Cohen sees a benefit to the region beyond what residents will enjoy. “The kind of business the Sabres will be bringing into the region happens during a time of year when traditionally we don’t get a lot of visitation,” she said. “As we know, hockey and swimming are our two biggest amateur athletic events. And creating a facility like this in Buffalo, I think, is going to be incredibly helpful to the region overall.”

Clifford G. Benson, the Sabres’ chief development officer, said HarborCenter came together quickly after a groundbreaking about a year and a half ago. “One of the things we heard when we came to Buffalo is, it’s hard to get things done in Buffalo,” Benson said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Workers have put up 2,000 tons of steel, he said, and have laid enough concrete to build a sidewalk from Buffalo to Rochester.


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