The fifth installment of our Buffalo Urban Futures Forum proved a remarkable success earlier this week uniting leaders from Boston and Buffalo to discuss how food and hospitality can reshape our urban fabric while also looking toward trends to the future. The event took place at Delaware North’s new headquarters in Buffalo, a dynamic space overlooking the city’s resurgent downtown. We were fortunate to secure a panel of visionaries in the food and hospitality development world, including:

  • Amy Latimer, President, TD Garden in Boson, Delaware North
  • Brian Sciera, Vice President of Sales, WS Development
  • Ed Sirhal, President, Patina Hospitality, Delaware North
  • Leslie Zemsky, Partner and Vice President, Larkin Development Group

L to R: Brian Sciera, Amy Latimer, Ed Sirhal, Leslie Zemsky and Michael Tunkey

The panel spoke from experience on the topic of food development. Amy and Ed are connected to the Hub at Causeway, a project consisting of more than 1.5 million sf of mixed-used retail, office, hotel and residential space, as well as the expansion of TD Garden, home to the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics. Located at a major transportation hub for the city, The Hub introduces a new food hall with 20 unique vendors, the largest below-grade grocery in the city, and creates a new transformative gateway to Boston.

Speaking for WS Development, Brian shared evidence and examples from his company’s work to establish Boston Seaport as a vibrant district within the city. As the largest single real estate project in Boston’s history, spanning 23 acres across 20 city blocks, WS is developing 7.6 million sf of mixed-use development.

Representing Buffalo, Leslie walked attendees through key moments in her team’s rejuvenation of Larkinville in downtown Buffalo. Through the creation or Larkin Square, the opening of Hydraulic Hearth restaurant and the launch of Food Truck Tuesdays, Larkinville has been one of the leading catalysts for Buffalo’s resurgence.

Business First Buffalo wrote a recap of the event and the discussion touched on four core themes that I’ve highlighted with excerpts below.

Amy Latimer on how food can transform neighborhoods
“I think what we all have in common is our projects have made the most of underutilized space. For us at TD Garden, we had space that was the original TD Garden just inches away from the new center and it was just a parking lot for 19 years. With the Jacobs’ family’s vision, the idea to have mixed-use retail and entirely new front door to the complex, I think we’d have been the first sports arena to have that but timing and the market, we’re breaking ground now. We only have 2.5 acres, so we went deep and high with our new space for The Hub at Causeway.

The neighborhood around us has transformed in that time and this project is going to further nourish it. For the most part, the culinary scene around TD Garden is bars that happen to sell food. Now, with our development, that’s all changing. We’re bringing 20 unique concepts to the area, actual full-service restaurants are opening; Star Market will be the largest grocery store in Boston that is below-grade; Big Night Entertainment is opening a restaurant and a 1,500-person live music venue. This is going to change the face and future of the neighborhood.”

Ed Sirhal on creating authentic food experiences
“In selecting the operators for The Hub at Causeway, we knew we needed operators that you can’t find anywhere else. It has to be unique, something that will enhance the experiential value of our food hall. We relied on Delaware North’s past experience recruiting vendors to Boston’s Logan International Airport and from there we really dug in deep and came up with an all-star cast of option. There are thousands of reasons to visit TD Garden and this area of Boston, but our efforts are definitely ensuring about two dozen delicious new reasons.”

Brian Sciera on how retail and food need to engage community
“Everyone knows how quickly retail is changing. Whether you’re a store owner, or a retail developer, you cannot just open the door and sell stuff anymore. It doesn’t work. The big buzzword in our industry is experiential retail and certainly food is a logical way to create experiences. If you add coffee shops, dynamic fast casual offerings – those experiences will bring people together.

Building on that, I don’t think you will see many retail developments today without a space where you can engage the community in meaningful ways. All of our new projects have green spaces where we can host everything from skating, music, ball drops at 8 so the kids can be there, to happy hours and free fitness classes. Anything you can do to engage the customer beyond just selling.”

Leslie Zemsky on the power of a food truck to catalyze change
“After a few years of operating Hydraulic Hearth and Square One Sandwiches and seeing Larkinville gain momentum, we realized, we have this incredible green space and patio area. Let’s invite food trucks down and see if people come. It started with Lloyd Taco Truck and I think we had 75 people the first night, then it kept building. All of a sudden we have 1,000 people coming to Food Truck Tuesdays so we went to other parts of the city, to Rochester even, in search of more food trucks.

Little did we know what a driver food trucks and this grassroots approach could be for Larkinville. The event has really put the area on the map for a new generation who had probably never been the Larkin District. Then, next thing you know, we’re seeing investment in nearby commercial buildings, residential spaces, new breweries moving in. Where arts have really been a driver for other cities, in Buffalo for us, it’s been food.”

At the close of the event, the panel had ignited new ideas in the 100-plus attendees and Delaware North provided food and drink so the group could network and talk further. It proved a great night for our discussion series and the city. We’re thankful to all the speakers for their time and Delaware North for their incredible kindness and service. We’re also excited to plan our next event for the fall focused on technology innovation.