A women’s fashion and accessory boutique will be the first of four small retailers that will occupy a one-floor mini-mall inside the Buffalo Sabres’ HarborCenter when the retail space along the lower Main Street side of the building opens in late spring.
Red Siren, owned by veteran human resources executive and businesswoman Sharon Randaccio, will offer a range of specialty gifts, jewelry, leather products and clothing, geared to appeal to a mix of local shoppers, “hockey moms” and tourists. Randaccio has been planning the new business for more than a year, developing relationships with more than 50 manufacturers.
“Buffalo women especially are going to find treasures here they are used to buying out of town,” said Randaccio, also founder, president and CEO of Performance Partners. “We are patching in to the energy surging in downtown Buffalo. We believe in the city and its resurgence and we’re thrilled to be part of it.”
Meanwhile, construction work continues on the 12-story Marriott Buffalo HarborCenter hotel that soars above the northwest corner of the building, with the exterior glazing about 80 percent complete. The hotel, which originally was targeted for completion and opening by May, is now expected to be ready by late summer, in time for the new season of hockey-related activities.
“I’m not going to deny that, while it wasn’t me putting the hard hat on every day, working through the coldest winter in years and the coldest February ever, I’m not going to deny that doesn’t take a toll,” said HarborCenter President and CEO John R. Koelmel. “It’s never as efficient when it’s that cold and that problematic. But kudos to those doing the work. It isn’t impeding the overall work and overall timeline.”
Randaccio’s new store will occupy about 1,200 square feet of the 5,000-square-foot mini-mall on the west side of HarborCenter, next to the hockey and entertainment complex’s main entrance and the separate portico entrance for the hotel now under construction on top of the ice rinks. That’s also right across from the Metro Rail “special events” station and Canalside.
Three other retail spaces of about 800 to 900 square feet each are still available for lease, and HarborCenter officials are working with various prospective tenants to finalize details over the next few weeks, even as they continue to receive inquiries from other parties, Koelmel said. Construction “build-out” would then begin, with a goal of completion in June.
“We continue to negotiate with others, and we’re really excited and pleased with what we think the outcomes will be,” Koelmel said. “It’s a rare week where we don’t have one to two other potential or interested parties contacting us about retail. It’s ongoing and we continue to welcome the interest.”
Like a traditional mall, all four spaces will open into a common lobby, and the stores will likely be open during “prime time” hours for HarborCenter, starting at noon. The retail area will have two entrances, one from Main Street and one from the stairwell to the building’s five-level parking ramp at the southwest corner of HarborCenter. The first hour of parking in the ramp will be free, to accommodate shoppers.
“Once the street is opened and once vehicular traffic is back up and around our building, there won’t be on-street parking,” Koelmel said. “So as with everything else, we want to make access as easy as possible, in spite of not having on-street parking.”
Plans for the retail space have been delayed and modified significantly from the high hopes that Koelmel and others talked about several months ago, when they intended to move quickly to have it open by now.
Koelmel said officials deliberately put off the effort because of a combination of the bitter winter weather, the ongoing construction activity that is hampering access on that side of the building, and the need to concentrate first on getting the primary ice rink and restaurant activity “up and running” over the last few months.
“I was large and loud about trying to move with real pace,” Koelmel said. “Having said that, I was wrong, rather than right, in trying to do that.”
In particular, he noted, work on the hotel and the front entrances of the building would impede the visibility and availability of the retail area right now, but that will change by June when that work is completed and construction barriers are removed.
“The importance and significance of Main Street being open ... has become very clear to all of us,” Koelmel said. “We’ve slowed down our efforts to make sure that opening the retail coincides with our ability to open Main Street.”
Also, at one time, executives talked of creating a two-floor retail space with 10,000 square feet at HarborCenter, coupled with additional space along the side of the First Niagara Center along Perry Street. That was part of a “grander vision” for HarborCenter, Koelmel said, even though the total retail portion is just a fraction of the 650,000-square-foot facility.
“We wanted it to be high impact. We wanted it to be successful,” Koelmel said. “We wanted to create a bit of a foundation for retail back in Buffalo, downtown in particular.”
But it became too difficult to squeeze too much in there. So instead, the current plan was cut in half, and separated from the First Niagara Center concept, which “has yet to be further fleshed out and developed” separately by Terry and Kim Pegula, Koelmel said.
“We want to enhance the local small-business opportunities,” Koelmel said. “It is a big bet for small business, but that hasn’t compromised our ability to get the right mix.”