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Construction Watch: One Canalside

One of downtown’s highest profile construction projects is progressing towards an end-of-year completion.  Benderson Development’s One Canalside will put a mix of retail, hotel and office uses into the former Donovan State Office Building along lower Main Street.

Law firm Phillips Lytle will be relocating from One HSBC Center to the building’s top four floors.  A 96-room Courtyard by Marriott will occupy the second through fourth floors and the ground floor will contain retail/restaurant space.


IMG_2357.jpgA two-story, 130-vehicle parking deck is being constructed along Washington Street.

IMG_2356.jpgClark Construction Group, LLC, the nation’s largest privately-held construction company, is general contractor. Orchard Park-based Fontanese Folts Aubrecht Ernst Architects, P.C. is architect.

OneCanalside42.pngIMG_2355.jpgIMG_2353.jpgIMG_2354.jpgThe eight-story building was acquired by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation in 2008.  Benderson was the only bidder that responded to a request for proposals to redevelop the property.

Bonus- Canals at Canalside clearly taking shape:

IMG_2352.jpgPhotos by Nate Mroz

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Written by WCPerspective


Buffalo and development junkie currently exiled in California.

1879 posts


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  1. Just curious… Has Benderson released any figures on how much this retrofit will cost? I would be very interested to know how much was saved, compared to the cost of demolishing the Donovan and rebuilding from the ground up.
    If possible, I would also like to know the environmental savings of landfill space and an estimate on the difference between the carbon footprint of producing the building supplies vs producing and recycling a whole new building. A breakdown on labor costs would be cool too!
    If there are significant advantages and savings, those numbers could be used to spur similar projects in the area and elsewhere. Maybe even put an end altogether to the argument of bulldozing properties to make them ‘shovel ready’.

  2. A much better fit to its location than the Pegula project down the street. This building has a more openness feel to it. It’s by no means a masterpiece, but it has a better feel and appearance than the cluttered mess soon to constructed on the Webster Block. Plus the entire demolition and construction was completed in full view of travelers on the 190 thruway. It has been a pleasure watching it develop.

  3. Thanks for the update, WCP.
    Definitely come a long way from boarded up windows for high-profile events like the 1st & 2nd rounds of the tourney.
    You try not to say something’s better than nothing but seeing actual development over decrepitude sure is nice.

  4. OMFG LET IT GO! My God, just let it go! Or file a lawsuit! Or call and set up an appointment with Terry so you can voice your displeasure and concerns! I’m sure he’d oblige. He probably got to where he is by accommodating random critics with extensive resumes chronicling business success. Like yours, I’m sure.
    F’ing Groundhog Day!

  5. Actually, ya know what, once HARBORCenter is complete why don’t you grab your skates and join me in a bar league game. We’ll drink some Blue on the bench, chop some ice, then pound some more brews at one of many options in the area. And when it’s all complete, you can tell me how horrible your night was and how Terry Pegula ruined your life.
    The water bottles on the bench can serve a dual purpose: in-game hydration and after game sand removal.

  6. Gosh that sky way access ramp just has to go…
    It seems every era has their collective insanity of false beliefs. Agriculture blinded by slavery. Industry blinded by pollution….only now are we looking back at our cities.
    I like it. It looks beautiful but I’d love to see a larger version of the origional Spaulding Mercantile…a big Georgian building with big french paned windows surrounded with something reminiscent of that era.
    The best thing I can compare is a walk down olde Montreal or olde Quebec…something of oldeBuffalo no matter how small.

  7. Sad in a way. There’s something essential about a steel skeleton that gets lost behind all that cheesy traditionalist cladding. Makes me wish Mies Van Der Rohe was still around…

  8. “A much better fit to its location than the Pegula project down the street. This building has a more openness feel to it. It’s by no means a masterpiece, but it has a better feel and appearance than the cluttered mess soon to constructed on the Webster Block”… we should demand that Harbor Center gets setback off the street and leaves room for surface parking and a big open plaza? Get real Firstward, we are getting a large and dense multi purpose project on a long vacant surface lot that will attract thousands of visitors a year. Projects like this have been the envy of Buffalo forever, now we are getting in on the action and you claim it is to big, too much going on, WOW.

  9. I think Reginald was joking you guys…
    It is fake brick. Apparently there’s something green/sustainable about the material (more sustainable than baked mud?). But they didn’t use a local firm capable of putting it up, soooooo its terrible!

  10. re: plywood: I was thinking the same thing yesterday as I drove by. Glad to hear its application surprises an architect because it seems chintzy to a lay person. I know Dryvit or metal will cover, but still . . .

  11. True, a point in time will come when the Skyway is an after thought. One this is completed and the Harbor Center is built, mixed with a little Canalside infill you’ll hardly even know it’s there.

  12. where can we get a rendering of the Aud canals again? It looks like a concrete jungle at the moment…I dont remember how fresh and appealing it looks…Pics? renederings?etc….
    Also I like the Main street donovan rendering facing Main street first floor…It should unmbrellas and tables facing canalside? Is that just for appeal or real?

  13. There are several midrise projects going up in San Francisco that are at roughly the same stage as this and look exactly like this. I’ve seen plywood used here as well. These types of buildings go up fast and they use lighter and cheaper materials and pre-fab brick. I know nothing of the construction trade and technology etc, so I can’t comment. All I know is they don’t build them like they used to.

  14. “All I know is they don’t build them like they used to. ”
    That’s why we need to knock down all the old buildings. They’re un-American! And not PROGRESSIVE!

  15. This is really a mixed bag. Its great to see so much development but the design is just generic developer schlock. Its hard to say if this is any better than the Donovan building. At least this is newer and bigger which I suppose is a good thing for Downtown.
    Its definitely going for middle-of-the-road. Its not trying to be a sophisticated landmark – or even a campy landmark the way T.Tielman’s proposals do.
    Also, I’ve noticed that when these historical elements are tacked on to a large building in such a repetitive and halfhearted way it seems to emphasize the banality more than if it were just entirely glass. Seeing faux brick panels and precast concrete sills applied to such a large area reminds me of bad website design with Papyrus font and rice paper backgrounds.

  16. “It seems every era has their collective insanity of false beliefs. Agriculture blinded by slavery. Industry blinded by pollution….only now are we looking back at our cities.”
    So, it appears that, in addition to rebuilding every demolished structure in Buffalo’s history (Larkin Bldg., ECSB), you also think slavery should be re-instituted and there should be unlimited pollution.
    I don’t know how to describe that — other than insanity.

  17. Does everything have to be a sophisticated landmark? One group stepped up to do something about the Donovan, just one. Internationally acclaimed architects and developers with deep pockets aren’t exactly banging on Buffalo’s doors to create their opus anymore and their certainly arent a bunch of multi-millionaires commissioning projects either.
    Buffalo and WNY is one of the poorest areas in the Country with a declining population and a persistent image problem outside of the area. I know the argument has been made that the Buffalo proper median age is actually pretty low BUT the region that supports many of its venues is increasingly aged, another alarm. I know many on BR love to hate the suburbs but the suburbs also help support Buffalo business and YES its a two way street.
    Yes, there are niche tourist markets starting to recognize Buffalo and that’s a great step forward but I still dont think its caught up with the average tourists that are most tourists. The song “Shuffle off to Buffalo” was written at a time when Buffalo was a place to be, and people were shuffling off to Buffalo. I don’t get the sense that such a song would have been written given Buffalo’s current state unless pitched by a tourism agency or something but certainly not mainstream and cultural.
    How in the WNY market are developers going to pump millions of extra dollars into projects for all quarried cut stone, golden fixtures, custom everything, etc. etc. in a poor shrinking marketplace? How do you make that cash flow analysis work in low rent Buffalo? Its like telling someone making 20K a year that they should have bought a 500K home instead of one that was reasonably affordable. Seems to me every project gets critiqued in this way and put down unless some international design competition is held to fund some huge public institution funded with many taxpayer dollars ala UB medical school. Even then, someone inevitably will find a way to get enraged about something because these days everything seems to mean the sky is falling outrageous! Buffalonians often refer to how great its past architecture was and all the rich building materials used, etc. Those are all great things and great assets for sure but all those things happened during a time of tremendous wealth and growth in the city, not now while the city is always scraping the bottom of the most poor cities lists. Until WNY is once again growing and prosperous I don’t expect to see many new golden fixtures.
    I dont like profiteers or cutting corners either but in the big scheme of things is this project truly worthy of the bashing to the level I am reading here? Will this building have the same negative impact on a city block as the Washington Street side of the convention center? I dont think so, not even close. The building has some articulation, transparency, seems to step down nicely from HSBC tower to what I would assume would be “historic” looking canalside buildings whenever they happen. I guess some would have been happier with a boarded up empty Donovan to complain about the city or owner not enforcing codes on and maintaining properly? I don’t see profiteering, cheap, or cutting corners when I look at this project. I see making the best out of a less than ideal local socio- economic situation. On BR sometimes I see is a bit of nose in the air complaining. I’m thankful for this building and many of the others going in downtown these days. It shows an effort to turn around years of physical decline downtown. Its good to see the community investing in itself instead of feeling sorry for itself, siting by idly watching things continually dwindle.

  18. People making projects this large should want something impressive, it is a shame they no longer do. Cheap designs reflect their attitude towards their city, their neighbors, and the long term value of this structure.
    Also, more than one group stepped up for this building, but the bid had wording and deadlines in place in order to exclude anyone but the group chosen.
    And the suburbs drain from the city, not support it. That may not be inherent to all suburban models, but the infrastructure we put in place in this region virtually guarantees it.

  19. No, its bigger than that, a BR thing. For me its a collection of negative comments that seem to stack up by a number of users that come across as condescending, angry, holier than thou, nose in the air, etc. etc. and typically at the twelfth hour or during construction. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and I respect that. It gets to a point where it isnt constructive criticism for some on here and becomes painfully apparent that projects are being bashed, put down, broad brushed as “crap”, “cheap” or “suburban garbage”…blah blah blah. Sometimes a series of comments work in concert to a point where I am inclined to say Whoa! At a point the degree of “damage” or wrong unleashed on society by a project really needs some perspective and really as great as BR is, sometimes folks need to choose their battles.
    Yes, my initial response was aimed at the “sophisticated landmark” comment because to some extent reading posts on here year after year I get a sense that is the expectation of some, some sort of high falutin architecture porn, that all new projects better be landmarks or its considered “schlock” or suburban crap. I highly doubt all those architects and engineers, who designed this project all sat around in a room thinking lets create some schlock architecture and put our names on the project in a downtown core. In my view, there’s a point where criticism beomes less constructive and more hateful or degrading.

  20. Suburbs are a part of every city in the US. Stop being so parochial and start thinking of this place as a region, we’re all part of it. Not everyone wants to live in the city just like not everyone wants to live in the suburbs. It’s not like the municpal lines are something no one should ever cross.
    I look at this building and think of it as great progress and improving the image of Buffalo. No longer will the building be an embarassment for the area when you have people going to games and events at the arena.

  21. I am sure that they can take some criticism. And, as you said, to each their own.
    And, this is suburban schlock. And, this is exactly the site for a “sophisticated landmark”. Instead, we are getting a doubletree–no different from the hotels by the airport.
    This is a fail in terms of design. I would have preferred a sleek mid century redo–that would be more deserving of this site.

  22. I see.
    I really think most of what gets said on here has pretty much zero influence on projects of this scale.
    Also, I have worked in offices where there is an unspoken understanding that what is being produced is not going to be great and then surprise it doesn’t turn out great. The people are there for a paycheck. That’s how schlock happens. It has a lot to do with a culture of low expectations. A lot can be done on even a modest budget if the entire project team is committed to and capable of producing something great. It might sound snobby to call this building unsophisticated but that is exactly what it is. Maybe they should have teamed up with “hungry” design firm.

  23. I have to say that the very top picture with the white, green red and orange building material showing through, along with the blue tinted windows looks fantastic. When I first saw the image I got pretty excited. Imagine how interesting it would be to have splashes of color like that on a building. Obviously these are just building materials, but for that moment it was a big refreshing change to the drab stone style colors in our city. Everything seems to be kind of beige or brown. Ho Hum. I know, I know, historically that is what was used. Fine. But for a new build like this, instead of trying to make it kind of (but not really) blend in, why not make it splash vibrantly?

  24. There is a frustration that design firms doing work in the city have a portfolio that is exclusively suburban. Making something contextual, addressing the pedestrian condition successfully, and pushing the design envelop is where all of these projects fall apart. The Donovan is a good example.
    And these things DO MATTER. It matters that a building is not a barrier, that it encourages street activity, that it responds to context and makes a more exciting urban condition – these qualities are the types of qualities that can be built upon, that pass the baton to the next project, that begins to lift the neighborhood. By ignoring the qualities that make a good urban building, the ball is getting dropped.
    This could have been a great start to Canalside, the first private investment with an emphasis on an active pedestrian environment. But no, we are spending millions of public dollars on a well designed canal space east of Main Street and basically the Donovan project is dropping an auto-turn around next to it and an empty plaza – a duplicate plaza? with a “restaurant” space recessed to far from the canal plaza space to provide any connectivity. How the hell this happened, i don’t know. But it sucks and it is exactly not how we should be building out Canalside.

  25. While the drain metaphor may seem appropriate to some, it’s good for WNY that it has a wide variety of both urban and non-urban options.
    Just as some of you love urban settings and strongly dislike suburban, some WNYers feel exactly opposite. If WNY didn’t have suburban settings, some of the county’s 70% who don’t live in the city would sooner choose a different region than urban life.
    That would reduce WNY’s population, # of businesses, county tax base, etc. – which might possibly have been what flyguy meant by ‘support’?
    On another note, however, flyguy was inaccurate as No_illusions said, about WNY being one of the poorest areas in the nation. The poverty rate in Erie Co almost exactly equals the U.S. national rate.

  26. Well . . . at least it’s better than some new suburban stuff. Consider Carl Paladino’s beast where Stereo Advantage used to be (Main/Union, Williamsville). By that standard, this is downtown chic.
    How nice it would be if there were public architectural competitions for everything new, at least of significant size, especially downtown. What’s that small Midwestern city that has dozens of buildings by world famous architects? Many of you will know. It’s a fraction of Buffalo’s size and has more significant 20th century architecture than we do. It doesn’t necessarily cost much more to go with an interesting design . . .

  27. How do I figure?
    I lived in Boston for over 10 years, and this is as good as any new building that has been put up there.
    Look around to see what other developers are doing in Buffalo, and One Canalside is NOT typical.

  28. Does a hungry design firm exist in Buffalo? Or are we just a ubiquitous cookie cutter lego set bunch of architects from the hallowed halls of UB. The guys with the pencils and drafting tables of the 19th and early 20th century accomplished more by hand drawing than any modern student with a software program could produce today.
    What happened to the Richard Waite’s, E.B. Green or Esenwein and Johnson types? Or the great revolts against architectural change like that of Viollet le Duc in Paris of 1865. Today’s design teams spend more time logging travel expenses and devising project slogans than actually creating a memorable design.

  29. I seriously doubt they would even think of using plywood on a Type I building, which this surely is.
    It’s more likely the latest color for an exterior sheathing material.

  30. I was thinking of the exact thing way back when the redevelopment discussions began. It would be a good thing.
    Maybe some other existing federal building could do the honors?
    It’s sad to lose the city’s history as the years go by…

  31. I think we are on two different pages entirely. You go from asking if Buffalo has any “hungry” (i.e. young, smart, inventive, nimble) companies to waxing nostalgic over slow, expensive and outdated practices.
    Anyways, there aren’t many firms in Buffalo that I see representing that leading edge of architecture design. is probably the only one on my radar.

  32. To refine my comments – I see where people might see plywood – on the center overhang at the top – sure looks like it from the distance in the photo.
    We’ve thought of using treated plywood only on the tops of large cornices on one large project, to allow for maintenance staff to “walk” on top during the lifetime of the building, but decided on sheet metal with closer spaced framing in the end due to durability and the above mentioned Type I construction constraints.
    It seems to me that exterior sheathing (cementitious or gypsum based) would be the most logical choices, as both are specifically designed for this location on the exterior.
    And besides, EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems) dictate what subsurfaces are acceptable, and plywood is not usually one of them.
    Especially for a major lawfirm that will occupy this building, considering construction defect litigation, the use of any wood product as an acceptable substrate is highly unlikely.

  33. Yes, and all due to the COST of construction.
    Brick, terracotta, and similar materials were the “cheaper” materials of the earlier era, and are quite maintenance intensive during the life of a structure (repointing of joints, spalling of surfaces, etc.).
    Precast concrete, EIFS, glass, and metal panel systems are the materials of today.
    I did read that terra cotta is trying to make a comeback with new manufacturing technologies to compete with masonry cladding systems.
    Solid brick veneers (4 inch nominal thickness) like before will never make a comeback – it’s just too much waste of material and adds too much weight for the amount of protection it provides.

  34. You do realize that all those older buildings you apparently admire had “steel skeletons” beneath all those “skins” you prefer…
    There is nothing “cheesy” about a material – it is always about how the designer chooses to implement the materials.

  35. Bini, it’s just that it’s a mid-century modern version of Mayberry. It doesn’t have all the cultural opportunities of a bigger city. Certainly, Columbus can teach other cities how to encourage great architecture.

  36. In polite society “chintzy” is called “cost effective and functional”. Still looks like ^$^&#%^ and will not wear well. Interesting that the Webster Block development is being held to a higher standard as far as building materials and cladding. Maybe there was alesson learned by ESDC.

  37. It helps to have a Fortune 500 firm like Cummins that bankrolls these charming little architectursal follies. I’m more intrested in what can be learned from Columbus Ohio than Columbus Indiana.

  38. Folly? A local business supports the community by paying for the cost of the design. The town benefits from beautiful buildings that they appreciate and use. Nothing is wasted. Folly? I don’t think so.

  39. Do you think its likely any one of Benderson’s of their top executives receives Architectural Record at home? Or gives a rats ass about architecture in general? When was the last time Randy Benderson went to a contemporary art museum? has he ever?
    They design buildings like Americans eat giant bacon cheese hamburgers at tgi Friday’s.

  40. Shape shifting architecture is not what I had in mind. Creating something unique and building off past styles is more in line with my thinking. My point was that fundamentals of design and creativity of past generations get lost with mouse clicks of the so called innovative ones.
    Navigating the Asap website is just as difficult as differentiating between whether the designs constitute artwork or architecture put forth by this firm.

  41. Even though Columbus is too sleepy for my tastes, there is a palpable sense of civic pride there because locals really appreciate their great architecture. Buffalo used to have that same sensibility and I hope it happens again.

  42. agree.
    and it originates in local leadership. Either the developer, tenant, or local officials pushing for better design. There is a HUGE void in Buffalo in that regard.
    Even at ECHDC there is a lack of understanding of what is going to make a great waterfront neighborhood. They just want to “get stuff built.”

  43. But it’s false pride because those buildings were imposed on Columbus by a corporate elite benefactor and wasn’t the result of any organic drive for excellence by residents. If Cummins hadn’t spent the dough for that little architectural menagerie, Columbus would look little different than Muncie. Or Kokomo. Or Terre Haute…

  44. Even if there isn’t a philanthropy void or an activism void there is certainly a design awareness void. The difference between Howard Zemsky and someone like Eli Broad has little to do with wealth or passion. The same goes for the difference between Tim Tielman and and groups like Friends of the High Line.
    I’m not saying that we must have starchitects designing police stations and high schools in WNY, but there are many very good less-than-starchitect up-and-coming firms out there that could help to burnish the region’s image and enhance quality of life.
    I’ve always found inspiration in the story of Esther Link’s involvement in the selecting of Eliel and Eero Saarinen for Klienhan’s Music Hall.
    “In May 1938, the (Kidd)brothers were hired as architects for the music hall. However, their designs were criticized by Esther Link who had been shown the Kidd drawings by Buffalo Foundation lawyer, Edward P. Letchworth. Link, without any formal architectural education, was a high school music teacher who travelled Europe and had a strong background with architects and artists. She was an admirer of architect Eliel Saarinen particularly for his design of the central railroad terminal in Helsinki. In July 1938, upon Letchworth’s request, Link drafted a letter detailing her passion for Saarinen’s work and the future of Kleinhans music hall. The Buffalo Foundation agreed to offer Saarinen the position of consultant. Saarinen declined. Letchworth did not want to undermine Rand and the Kidd brothers. In September 1938, Letchworth met with Saarinen and his son Eero, and the Kidd Firm. They all agreed that Saarinen would be “designing architect” while Kidd would oversee the project. Saarinen quickly submitted his design one month later.”

  45. False pride? Folks that I met there would disagree. The buildings were not imposed on the community. Columbus ain’t Colonial Williamsburg. They were free to choose or not choose among a group of architects and they acted as a community in these decisions. Not all buildings were successful; their mall downtown, while light-filled, was pretty homely.
    I agree that without Cummins, Columbus would look no different than the rest of Indiana. That’s the point, though, isn’t it?

  46. Outside the Box – re: “I look at this building and think of it as great progress and improving the image of Buffalo. No longer will the building be an embarassment for the area when you have people going to games and events at the arena.”
    I co-sign your statement.

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