First Niagara Center
|Former names||Crossroads Arena (Planning-1996)
Marine Midland Arena (1996–1999)
HSBC Arena (2000–2011)
|Location||One Seymour Knox III Plaza, Buffalo, New York, 14203-3096|
|Operator||Hockey Western New York, LLC|
|Capacity||Ice hockey: 18,595 (1996–1999), 18,690 (1999–2012), 19,070 (2012-present)
|Field size||700,000 square feet (65,000 m2)|
|Broke ground||November 4, 1994|
|Opened||September 21, 1996|
|Construction cost||$127.5 million
($192 million in 2014 dollars)
Bergmann Associates PC
Hamilton Houston Lownie Architects
|General contractor||Huber, Hunt & Nichols|
|Buffalo Sabres (NHL) (1996–present)
Buffalo Bandits (NLL) (1996–present)
Buffalo Destroyers (AFL) (1999–2003)
Buffalo Blizzard (NPSL) (1996–2001)
Buffalo Wings (RHI) (1997–1999)
Rochester Americans (AHL) (select games)
St. Bonaventure Bonnies (NCAA) (select games)
The First Niagara Center, formerly known as HSBC Arena and Marine Midland Arena, is a multipurpose indoor arena located in downtown Buffalo, New York, USA. It is the largest indoor arena in Western New York, seating 19,070 fans in its normal configuration, and was constructed primarily for the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League, who have called the arena home since its opening in 1996, when it replaced the now-demolished Memorial Auditorium.
What was originally known during construction as Crossroads Arena opened September 21, 1996, replacing the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. The construction cost was $127.5 million, (approximately $192 million in 2014 dollars).
Naming rights were sold to Marine Midland Bank, part of the HSBC banking group in 1996, and the building was renamed Marine Midland Arena before the first game had been played. The bank bought the naming rights for 30 years then to expire in 2026. In 1999, as part of HSBC's worldwide corporate rebranding, the arena's name was changed to HSBC Arena. The official renaming of the arena took place March 17, 2000. The name of the arena had been Marine Midland Arena though 1999 and the change was approved in March 2000. This name change coincided with the playing of the first college basketball tournament game in the arena's history. The press box in the arena is named after former Sabres broadcaster and Hockey Hall of Fame member Ted Darling.
In 2011, Buffalo based First Niagara Financial Group reached an agreement to purchase HSBC Bank's upstate New York and Connecticut branch network. While naming rights to HSBC Arena were not included in the sale, First Niagara, HSBC, the Buffalo Sabres, and other parties reached an agreement to establish a new naming rights deal with First Niagara. The name of the arena became First Niagara Center that summer. First Niagara bought the naming rights for 15 years, approximately the remainder of the time that was left on HSBC's naming rights deal with the arena.
On November 16, 1996, the arena's first JumboTron, an eight-sided scoreboard made by Daktronics with Sony video screens, fell to the ice while it was being remotely moved. This was minutes after a few players ended practice and hours before a game between the Sabres and Boston Bruins. Nobody was injured, but the game was postponed. The scoreboard was replaced later that season.
In time for the Buffalo Sabres' 2007–2008 season, a new High Definition scoreboard manufactured by Daktronics was installed. In addition the four main speaker racks were removed and replaced and two additional speaker racks were added. The new scoreboard features four large high-definition video screens, surrounded by two 360-degree LED ribbon boards. The bottom of the board features large Buffalo Sabres logos with giant sabres crossed behind them. The handles of the sabres are lit with blue LED lights. The Sabres logos shoot smoke out of the Buffalo's nostrils every time a Sabres goal is scored or when the Sabres win at home.
The first update to the arena took place after the conclusion of the 1998-1999 hockey season. 95 seats were added behind the last row of the 300 level, raising the arena's hockey and lacrosse capacity from 18,595 to 18,690.
The next update to the arena took place in 2002-03, when the Sabres replaced matrix board on the face of the second bowl with a LED ribbon. The original seamless glass boards were also removed, and replaced with boards with clear plastic stanchions, which gave when players were hit into them.
Another update to First Niagara Center took place for the 2007–2008 season. Two illuminated Sabres logos were added in the upper level of the pavilion on both sides of the Sports Headlines bar. Also, new LED ribbon boards were installed in the arena seating bowl in conjunction with the new HD scoreboard. Later in 2008, a mural was installed in the lower pavilion near the main entrance. The mural contained pictures from the 2008 NHL Winter Classic held at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, NY.
Another update took place during Summer and early Fall of 2011. The major renovation included the demolition and installation of brand new locker rooms. This $6 million locker room project led by Cannon Design of Grand Island, NY saw an expansion from 8,000 to 15,220 square feet (743 to 1,414 m2) in size. The new Sabres locker room is designed as a circular room, complete with illuminated team logos on the floor and ceiling. Additional new facilities include a state of the art fitness center, new coaching offices, film rooms where players and coaches can watch previous games, and a players lounge with a kitchen and team chef. Also, the new Sabres locker room features a Wall of Fame featuring team history, the names and numbers of retired team jerseys. Limestones that were salvaged from the former Buffalo Memorial Auditorium are surrounded by glass, which features the names of all team players throughout franchise existence. Visiting team locker rooms were also expanded from 3,230 to 3,511 square feet (300.1 to 326.2 m2). Finally, a new post-game interview room was also built.
In addition to the new locker rooms and training facilities, the public spaces within the arena were also upgraded. First, the arena took on the Sabres Blue and Gold color scheme inside the arena bowl. It replaces the red color used on the team logo from 1996–2006. The previous Sabres logo (used from 2006–2010) was removed from the scoreboard and replaced with the current logo. All of the original television sets were replaced with new High Definition televisions. New food choices were added as part of the upgraded concessions. Signage was replaced or upgraded where needed. Restrooms saw cup holders and HD televisions added for fan convenience. Also, new chimes were added, which sound two minutes prior to the opening faceoff each period. This lets fans know to head towards the seating areas. Finally, the Sports Headlines bar has now been replaced by the Labatt Blue Zone.
The ice rink itself saw a multimillion dollar upgrade with adding a new dehumidifier system and cooling tower. All of the Zamboni machines were replaced and upgraded to feature laser beam leveling. These upgrades improve the quality of the ice surface.
Outside, a new LED ribbon board was added to the entrance pavilion which can display upcoming events, scores, and team information.
Another update features the creation of the Tops Markets Alumni Plaza. Starting in July 2012, the space located between the arena's entrance pavilion and the parking ramp will see the concrete bridge columns covered with brick. All of the team members that the Buffalo Sabres have had throughout existence are now featured on plaques that will be mounted to the bricks. In addition, fans of the Sabres will be able to purchase custom plaques that will be featured alongside the team members. Alumni Plaza's centerpiece will be a 10 foot high bronze statue of the "French Connection". These renovations were completed in October 2012.
The new HARBORcenter building will be attached to the arena by an elevated walk-way. HARBORcenter is a mid-rise building with 2 hockey rinks, a hotel, retail space, and a parking garage. Construction began in early 2013.
After the 2011-12 Buffalo Sabres season, the Sabres added 380 seats, mainly as an additional row in the 200 level, to raise the arena's capacity to 19,070. This number is symbolic of the team's founding in 1970.
First Niagara Center is home to the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League and the Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League. The arena was the home of the Buffalo Destroyers of the Arena Football League, the Buffalo Blizzard of the National Professional Soccer League II, and the Buffalo Wings of Roller Hockey International during each team's brief existence. During the 2012 NHL lockout, the arena has hosted several Rochester Americans games.
The arena also is used regularly for college basketball games and hosts concerts. It has been home to the NCAA (2000, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2014) and MAAC (1997, 1999, 2001, 2005) men's basketball tournaments. In 2003 the Arena hosted the Frozen Four NCAA Ice Hockey tournament.
The arena was also host to a house party for the 2008 NHL Winter Classic. Festivities included the Buffalo Sabres Alumni Hockey Team playing in pre-game action, followed by the Winter Classic shown on the scoreboard. In December 2010 through January 2011, the arena hosted the IIHF World Junior Championship tournament.
The arena is also a regular stop for major concert tours and is the largest concert venue in Buffalo proper (it is one of two regular stops in Western New York for concert tours, the other being the performing arts center at Darien Lake).
The arena has hosted many WWE events including The Great American Bash 2005, Armageddon 2008, Night of Champions 2011 and is set to host WWE Battleground on October 6, 2013. A number of Raw and Smackdown tapings have occurred here, most recently Old School Raw March 4, 2013.
In its ice hockey/indoor lacrosse configuration, the First Niagara Center can seat 19,070 spectators. In the event that the arena is being used for a concert, basketball game, or other event that does not require the entire 200×85 surface, the total number can increase – accounting for seats or standing space on the arena's floor. Both sporting events and concerts at the arena are served by the Special Events station of the Buffalo Metro Rail.
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