Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
When new Sabres owner Terry Pegula was making the trek from the First Niagara Center to the Buffalo News building back in February, 2011, he was walking past years, nay decades, of neglect in downtown Buffalo.
The News building itself had seen better days. The one-time bastion of journalism looked old and worn even before the revitalization of downtown really started to take shape.
With Canalside rockin' and the Courtyard by Marriott shining bright, one would think the owner of the Buffalo News, might join the renaissance and have it's jewel of Queen City journalism leveled for a newer building.
Pegula fulfilled his mission that day which was to call off the dogs. He just purchased a mediocre team and he wanted to give his charges an opportunity to see what they had without financial restraints.
It was a disaster.
But, within that trek and those failures emerged a vision of a hockey mecca that would help revitalize a decrepit downtown: HARBORCENTER.
The $172M project financed completely by Pegula is set to open this fall. And today at 1pm, a press conference will is being held reportedly to announce that HARBORCENTER will be home to the NHL Combine for the next two years.
Unlike Toronto where the previous site was a convention center, a pre-draft scouting combine at HARBORCENTER includes a large training center as well as offering two ice rinks for on-ice testing. It's also connected to the First Niagara Center via a walkway.
It was built mainly for hockey and will be home to the Canisius Griffins, Buffalo Jr. Sabres and Erie County Community College's Kats NJCAA program.
In addition to the Courtyard, Marriott International will have rooms within the Harbor Center itself operated by Shaner Hotels.
The Marriott hotels are just the beginning of what looks to be a hotel boom on the horizon.
According to an article by Jay Rey and Jonathan D. Epstein of the News, the region is going "hotel crazy." They concluded that some 26 hotels and over 2000 rooms will be added to the Greater Buffalo Niagara Region within the next five years.
That is something that bodes well for the region in the eyes of the major sports as hotel rooms are a key ingredient to bringing a high profile events to an area.
Although one shouldn't hold their breath in anticipation of a Super Bowl or World Cup, smaller events like the NHL Draft Combine are a solid stepping stone to something larger. And, word is also out that the 2016 NHL Draft might be held at the First Niagara Center, something that could be announced today as well.
It will be the first time since 1998.
While walking past construction of HARBORCENTER last month and taking in the new Courtyard one could sense revitalization in the air and good things on the horizon. After attending the Sabres Development camp and walking around the area, you could draw a parallel between the rise of HARBORCENTER and the newness of Canalside coinciding with the rebuilding Buffalo Sabres.
It took a few years with some fits and stops and failures along the way, but with events like the NHL Draft Combine and possible 2016 Draft, things are looking up.