Surface Parking Protectionism

The image shown above is a rendering of the HARBORcenter – the Sabres’ proposed hotel, restaurant, retail, and indoor hockey destination planned for construction on the long-abandoned Webster Block.  It’s no Fallingwater, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s not ugly and it’s wholly functional, and will bring people and their money to a fledgling entertainment district that’s growing in fits and starts of its own accord. 

Buffalo antideveloper Tim Tielman has started a company named after the “neighborhood workshops” that have been part and parcel of the formulation and implementation of Buffalo’s soon-to-be “Green Code” zoning law. On Tuesday, Tielman, on behalf of his “Neighborhood Workshop, LLC” appeared before the Planning Board to complain about how the Pegula-led “HARBORCenter” project for the Webster Block isn’t pretty enough for him and his clientHi-Temp Fabrications, which occupies an eyesore across the street from an HSBC Atrium surface lot. 

Four speakers, including the owner of a neighboring business, spoke against the project during a City Hall public hearing today.

Speakers said the development would contribute to congestion and that it did not resemble historic architecture styles.

“The central planning issue that we’re facing in Buffalo today … is how to connect downtown to the waterfront,” said Tim Tielman, whose Neighborhood Workshop consultancy developed an alternative concept on behalf of John and Shelley McKendry, who own Hi-Temp Fabrication, at 79 Perry St. Tielman said the project adds to the separation of downtown and the water, as the Skyway does.

Yes, it’s time to hold our horses and literally obstruct something being planned imminently to replace a surface parking lot.  Perhaps we can make it more historically interpretive by adding hay bales and hitching posts? A museum of downtown surface parking might be good for the cultural tourists? Or maybe we can just re-pave and re-stripe the lot? Perhaps we can retain Fred Kent and his extortionate traveling “placemaking” salon to discuss “flexible lawns” and colorful benches? Where are the solar-powered carousels?

Better yet, maybe we can tell the Sabres to go to hell and construct some ugly hodgepodge of buildings with outdoor rinks as an afterthought up on the roof. 

Mr. Tielman and his uncharacteristically disclosed patrons are coming to protect downtown’s connection to the waterfront – that is, if you ignore the fact that the railyard and the really big hockey arena both do that very thing already. 

Who are we in Buffalo to expect or want a nice hotel and hockey facility to help build on a solid entertainment district foundation now anchored by CanalSide, First Niagara Center, and Helium Comedy Club? 

If Hi-Temp Fabrications wants to weigh in on a development’s design, it should invest in the development or buy the parcel. The 11th hour unwanted micromanagement of a $170 million hockey destination and for what? For this eyesore, which looks like a Crayola marker box come to life; Curaçao by the Arena.


 This isn’t a case for historic preservation or even one where a better design is being proposed in place of an existing one. This is about ego, power, and subjective design prejudices. That hotel would look great in coastal Florida. In 1977. Those little phony colorful row houses look as stupid as they do out of place. The idea of outdoor rinks completely flies in the face of the Sabres’ intent – to design a destination Division 1 AAA hockey facility to attract tournaments of all ages from all over. Just leave the Sabres alone. When it comes to attracting people and money, they’ve already got things figured out pretty well. 


  • The problem in Buffalo is not that we have obstructionist, power-mad morons like Tim Tielman, it is that people like him actually have a voice and some degree of clout around here.

    Every city has its collection of idiots, but only Buffalo gives them a seat at the adult table.

  • Well hey, it was a public meeting right? They’re allowed to voice their opinion right? And Tim managed to get some sucker to ante up the money for those colossally ridiculous drawings – good for him, I guess.

    He can surely say whatever the f*** he wants. Until/unless he throws another lawsuit on the pyre, then… well, then we take up pitchforks and burn something.


  • I think you said it better on twitter yesterday. 

    Want to control a project like this? Shut the fuck up and buy the lot yourself. 

  • A robust online debate at Preservation-Ready Sites last night was the genesis of Alan’s great article today.

    I am also very buoyed by the extensive comment thread attached to Chris Schmidt’s write up on Buffalo Rising posted yesterday. Followers of BRO know that the regular commenters are a pretty eclectic bunch, yet a vast majority of posted opinions are deriding Tielman’s ridiculous proposal and renderings, and questioning the timing of this presentation, now three weeks away from groundbreaking.

    More than anything else other than the arena itself, this project will be the positive game changer for Canalside and the Inner Harbor in terms of attracting yoet more development and energy and buildout of the neighborhood. Having traveled extensively and having visited all the major sports venues across North America I am absolutely convinced of it.

    And just to give Mr. Tielman and his client a modicum of respect, how about turning the energy and the spotlight on the Ohio Street corridor, where there are no shortage of buildings (i.e. Cooperage) needing attention and advocacy? Heck, start with your own building, High Temps on Perry Street. Some repointing of the brick facade, snazzy new signage and a few coats of paint would be most welcome.

  • See, the thing is Alan, Tim and his ilk don’t want downtown to be an entertainment district.  That’s the whole crux of the matter.  If he had his way, the arena would be demolished and moved out of the city.  That way he could make way for more fake canals and colorful adirondack  chairs.  You know, things that REALLY make the money for the city.  Why would we want to create a thriving downtown around our 2 major sporting teams? 

  • Adding sarcastic comments to a picture is not a real critique. Anyone could do the same thing with the photo of HARBORCENTER. “Empty Hotel!” “Indoor(!) Ice Rink” “Amazing Translucent Couple!” It’s amazing that the tenor of the discussion here has somehow made that on the Buffalo News story about the same project seem mature and well-thought out. 
    Worshipping at the feet of anyone who wants to build anything in the city is not the way to get positive results. Thanks to the types you’re so readily vilifying, we avoided the Bass Pro debacle. There needs to be give and take in something like this. Reading bitchy complaints like this and yesterday’s make me want to actually oppose this project, which, by and large, I don’t. It’s great that Herr Frackmeister is willing to fund this thing himself, and I think some of the stuff would be a good addition down by the stadium.

    There certainly doesn’t need to be a hotel there, though. We’ve been adding a hotel or two every year to a city that’s still losing population. The ones we have operate at something like 70% capacity. Is our goal to get them below 50%? 
    Also, this isn’t an issue of “surface parking protectionism” as the writer put it, because Tielman’s plan includes a parking ramp.
    It’s one thing to disagree with an idea, it’s another to take silly pot shots at someone just because they are skeptical about another giant project getting fast-tracked because it has a big name attached.

    • Do you really think companies are investing millions of dollars into building hotels without spending a penny on market research (and I’m talking about the non-billionaire frackmeisters)?   Clearly there is a need, otherwise developers wouldn’t be building them.  Tielman has done some pretty good work in the past, but he’s definitely has lost some credibility after spewing out this crap.  My only complaint with this project is it should have included a mid-level condo or residential rental component.

  • There’s not much I can add that hasn’t been written in this brilliant and relevant New York Times editorial.

    Death by Nostalgia
    Sarah Williams Goldhagen
    10 June 2011

    The last four paragraphs say it all.


    In other words, preservation morphed into a four-headed monster: a planning tool, a design review tool, a development tool and a tool to preserve genuinely valuable old neighborhoods and buildings. Today decisions about managing urban development are frequently framed as
    decisions about what and what not to preserve, with little sense of how those decisions affect the surrounding neighborhood.

    Worse, these decisions are mostly left to the whims of overly empowered preservation boards, staffed by amateurs casting their nets too widely and indiscriminately. And too many buildings are preserved not because of their historic value or aesthetic significance, but because of
    political or economic deal-making.

    Instead of bashing preservation, we should restrict it to its proper domain. Design review boards, staffed by professionals trained in aesthetics and urban issues and able to influence planning and preservation decisions, should become an integral part of the urban development process. At the same time, city planning offices must be returned to their former, powerful role in urban policy.

    That’s the way things work in Europe, where vibrant contemporary cities like London, Berlin, Paris and almost any city in the Netherlands blend old and new without effacing their normal evolutionary processes.

    As these cities demonstrate, preservation should be one of several instruments necessary for creating livable, attractive and vibrant urban spaces and architecture. Otherwise, in the hands of weak local governments, powerful real-estate interests and untrained panels, it is indeed an impediment to the healthy modernization of our cities: a recipe for aesthetic insipidity and urban incoherence.

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