BY JOE OLENICK firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — For the first – and probably not the last – time, there was cheering at 34 Chestnut St. on Tuesday afternoon. Community members, local officials, area hockey players and supporters gathered as an excavator tore the loading dock of the old building down.
That was the official start to the construction of the long awaited Lockport Ice Arena & Sports Center.
The $13 million, 93,500 square-foot project is a step closer to being a reality, with an expected opening slated for the fall of 2014. Demolition has begun on the current building, which over the years was a home to a Twin Fair, a Sears and a Jubilee supermarket.
The building has been vacant for over a decade. City Corp. Counsel John J. Ottaviano, who is also the president of the arena, said it took five years for the arena to reach this stage. A recession and a host of other financial obstacles often got in the way, he said.
“Looking back, we realized how easy it would have been to give up,” Ottaviano said. “But we were stubborn... this was one dream, one goal we would not give up on.”
The thought is that an ice arena would draw families to Lockport, particulary those with kids or youth who play hockey. Area ice hockey teams often struggle to find ice to play or practice on, as there are few such surfaces available. Officials project annual skater and spectator traffic to exceed 150,000 by 2015.
“This project is truly a game changer for our city,” said Mayor Michael Tucker.
John Koelmel, president of HarborCenter, the new ice arena and entertainment complex being built in downtown Buffalo, said both the HarborCenter and Lockport ice arena are signs that the area is making progress. Koelmel noted he had been in the Town of Lockport just a few days ago for the groundbreaking of Yahoo’s expansion.
That, along with Niagara and Erie counties’ passion for hockey, could make Buffalo and Lockport hockey destinations, Koelmel said. The private and public sectors working together can continue the success, he said.
“The time is right for Western New York in general,” Koelmel said.
HarborCenter is owned by Terry Pegula, who owns the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. It’s expected to open next fall as well.
The demolition will be handled by Mulvey Construction, while Waterbourne Construction Advisors will begin construction of the double-rink once the site has been cleared.
“This project has been near and dear to my heart – and to a lot of people within Lockport and Niagara County – ever since the Kenan Center took down their rink over 25 years ago,” Ottaviano said in a statement. “After more than eight years of planning, we are finally at the point where this is going to become a reality. This is just tremendous news for the city and the entire region.”
James Bammel of Bammel Architects is designing the complex, which will feature two NHL regulation size rinks along with over 7,000 square feet slated for retail and sports-related opportunities. The rinks will feature an Eco Chill system designed to collect, recycle and reuse the energy used to maintain the ice surface to help heat and cool the facility – thereby drastically reducing energy costs.
Spectator seating is expected to be around 630. The arena will also feature a training center, community room and space for food service providers.
Firland Management of Lewiston, Maine, a nationally recognized firm with years of experience in ice rink facility operation, management and development, is the consultant on the project.
But what really put the project over the hump was a $4 million grant from the Grigg-Lewis Foundation. Grigg-Lewis Executive Director William B. May said there’s still work to be done.
“It’s comparable to pushing out a docked ship, now we have to see if it floats,” May said. “We have to get it built, get it staffed, get it programmed... and support it to make it work.”
The Grigg-Lewis grant and the site mortgage are the largest parts of the funding, but a public fund drive is still needed. The amount needed to be raised hasn’t been determined yet.
State Sen. George Maziarz brought well-known wirewalker Nik Wallenda to Tuesday’s groundbreaking. Citing his belief in the importance of family friendly attractions, Wallenda shared with reporters his hope for a “family entertainment venue” in downtown Niagara Falls. Neither the site nor the funding has been figured out yet.
But, like the Lockport Ice Arena & Sports Center, Wallenda said his personal motto could be related to both projects.
“Never give up,” Wallenda said.BY THE NUMBERS • TOTAL COST: $13 million (with $4 million coming from the Grigg-Lewis Foundation) • FEATURES: Two NHL-sized ice rinks, seating for 630, training center and community room • SIZE: 93,500 square feet • ANTICIPATED OPENING: Fall 2014 Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.