HARBORCENTER: A New Destination in Buffalo, A New Message for the City

It’s been two years in the making and has been open just two months, but HARBORCENTER has already made an emphatic mark on the hockey world. The new $200 million sports, dining and hospitality destination in Buffalo, New York has taken a charge by the city and Sabres ownership to create a mixed-use destination and has found success by sharing a broader message about the city. Much in the same way that Sporting Park and Sporting Kansas City’s rebrand helped to establish Kansas City as the soccer capital of America, HARBORCENTER is in the process of doing the same for hockey in Buffalo.

The facility includes two new ice rinks, a 200-room Marriott hotel, a restaurant, coffee shop, retail and parking, and represents an important step in the development of Buffalo’s downtown waterfront and the city’s ability to build a reputation as the nation’s hockey destination. By designing a cutting-edge facility that combines resources available nowhere else – including two NHL ice sheets on the 6th floor of the building, 13 locker facilities, meeting rooms and training facilities – we were able to create a viable, distinct statement for Buffalo and further position the city as a place for elite youth hockey talent to train and families to visit.

Upon opening, HARBORCENTER became home ice for the Golden Griffins hockey team of Canisius College, the Erie Community College’s hockey team – the Kats – and the Buffalo Junior Sabres Youth Hockey Organization. The facility has also attracted prestigious Cup tournaments for youth hockey, US sledge hockey tournaments, the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championship, the International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championship and has coincided with the launch of the Academy of Hockey, which will provide structured training and specific programming to help build youth hockey talent. As part of this, HARBORCENTER has launched the Youth Development Partnership, which is open to hockey organizations across New York and Ontario and provides them the opportunity to practice at HARBORCENTER with the Academy of Hockey coaches and utilize the features of the facility for training. In addition, Impact Sports Performance provides off-ice training for young talent. The NHL took notice of HARBORCENTER and announced just a few months prior to the opening that both the Annual Scouting Combine, for 2015 and 2016, would be moved to HARBORCENTER, and the 2016 NHL Entry Draft would be hosted at First Niagara Center, with HARBORCENTER working in a supporting role.

This rush of programming, events and tournaments that have found value in Buffalo speak to the impact good design can have on communicating a clear message about a community’s assets. Good design in sport understands the story to be told and finds ways to provide form and function that showcase the unique goals and aspirations of a community. In Buffalo, there was a perfect impetus for design – there was opportunity, experience, connectivity and a compelling clarity of vision that drove the project. The development provided the city with an opportunity to establish themselves as a destination for hockey training and development. The Pegulas and city officials saw a need within the sports community to provide resources that weren’t available to the hockey community in one centralized location and were motivated to establish Buffalo nationally as a hockey destination. There was also a focus on designing for maximum connectivity. The site occupies a full city block, formerly known as Webster Block, and provides key access and connectivity to the Canalside Harbor Development, public transportation and to the Buffalo Sabres home – First Niagara Center. There is a symbolic connection between the proximity of the NHL arena and these training grounds – and this was important to design.

Because we were creating a mixed-use destination – one that would have restaurants, retail, a hotel and a community sport venue – we thought far beyond what makes a good hockey experience and thought more broadly about each of our user groups, ranging from families visiting to local residents to athletes, and considered what makes a good experience for everyone. Period.  In approaching the design this way, we realized we had a chance to cater to an audience who may be visiting Buffalo for the first time, and serve up an experience that makes them desire to return year after year. However, most importantly, the clarity of vision and the unique understanding of goals for HARBORCENTER allowed for a successful facility that combines sport with a mixed-use destination for an array of user groups in an impactful way that will forever change the face of Buffalo.

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