A New Addition to the Seneca Herd

Since 2005, the Seneca Nation has had a vision of a world-class gaming and entertainment destination in downtown Buffalo, N.Y.—a vision of transforming an old, industrial property, reminiscent of Buffalo’s past, into a key piece of the city’s future. On Aug. 27, 2013, the Seneca Nation welcomed the people of Buffalo to experience that long-awaited vision when it was fulfilled by the opening of the new $130 million Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino.

Owned by the Seneca Nation of Indians and operated by the Seneca Gaming Corporation, the new Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, in Buffalo, N.Y., expands the Seneca Nation’s popular western New York gaming brand to three properties, including the Seneca Allegany Casino & Hotel in Salamanca, N.Y., and Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel in Niagara Falls, N.Y. The 64,000-square-foot Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino includes 808 slots machines, 18 table games, a high-limit slots area, a 24-seat BC café, a 120-seat Buffalo Savors restaurant, a 50-seat Stixx Sports Bar and more than 1,000 parking spots.

Located in the former industrial area of Buffalo’s re-emerging Inner Harbor, the new casino is highly visible from Interstate 190 and only two blocks from the First Niagara Center, home of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. It is uniquely positioned in location and size to meet the needs of the regional gaming and entertainment market. The site also lies on the Seneca Nation’s sovereign 9-acre Buffalo Creek Territory, part of the Nation’s ancestral home. “We are simultaneously celebrating the Seneca Nation’s return to an important piece of its history—the Buffalo Creek Territory—and a turning point in the City of Buffalo’s future,” said Rob Chamberlain, senior vice president of design and construction at the Seneca Gaming Corporation. “We wanted to create a project that celebrated the culture of the Seneca people while serving as a building block for the continued growth of the Inner Harbor area.” The Inner Harbor area of downtown Buffalo has blossomed into a burgeoning entertainment district, anchored by a growing number of hospitality, entertainment and commercial developments extending from the shores of Lake Erie to the nearby Buffalo Creek Territory.

Responsible for the architectural and interior design, Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG) aimed to make the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino mirror the Seneca Nation’s cultural and community vision. “In our design collaboration with the Seneca Nation, we always viewed the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino project as both a place making and design activity,” said Dan Elias, AIA, LEEP AP, principal at HBG. “To allow the casino to thrive in its location, we needed to find unique elements that could both draw patrons from the surrounding community into the casino while also positioning the physical casino as an active contributor to the community’s growth and redevelopment.”

“Although this building is new, it represents a continuation of the Seneca Nation’s commitment to the people of Buffalo and western New York,” Seneca Nation President Barry E. Snyder Sr. stated. “It is a commitment that we have proudly honored.”

Long before the project began, Seneca leaders had outlined visions of a walkable community that ties together a collection of sites and businesses anchored by Coca-Cola Field, Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, First Niagara Center Arena and Erie Canal Harbor.

The initial phase of Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, a slots-only property, opened in July 2007 and was subsequently expanded in both 2008 and 2010. While a number of challenges forced the Seneca Nation to suspend construction of a more expansive property—most notably the world economic downturn—Seneca Nation and Gaming Corporation leaders remained committed to developing a project that would fit within the environment taking shape in the Inner Harbor area.

It was in August 2011 that HBG was selected as the architectural firm to design a casino-only version of the Seneca Nation vision. “Before design concepts were created, our team met with the Seneca Cultural Committee to learn about the Nation’s customs, history and cultural identity,” said Nathan Peak, HBG designer and senior associate. “The Nation wanted the property to reflect the local Buffalo area while also infusing meaningful cultural elements into the design.”

“We also integrated the information from the planning and community outreach activities already spearheaded by the Seneca Nation,” HBG Project Manager and Principal Paul Bell shared. “This input allowed us to understand what the community wanted and create fresh exterior and interior designs tailored to the needs of both the Seneca Nation and the Buffalo community.”

To buffer the property from Lake Erie’s winds, designers turned the main entry away from the lake and created a landscape barrier. The main entry was situated at the corner of Perry Street and Michigan Avenue, where there is already heavy foot traffic leading from the direction of the First Niagara Center and the adjacent Inner Harbor.

Before guests enter the casino, they will experience the “Seneca Walk,” a dynamic walkway and green space that will serve as a signature entryway to the property, linking the casino to the other developments that are springing up around the Inner Harbor area.

Drawing inspiration from Buffalo Creek, designers also applied a symbolic water element to the facade of the building with the use of blue metal panels that create a visual wave-like movement at the casino entrance. Tribal artwork and specialized materials inspired by Seneca culture and the local area are used throughout the property.

“Close collaboration between the HBG design team and the Seneca Nation was invaluable to ensure cultural authenticity,” Peak added.

One of the key design drivers for the new casino design and construction involved the creative reuse of the existing steel and other materials purchased as part of previous development efforts, which represented a significant investment by the Nation.

HBG was able to use 96 percent of the existing materials, and the steel was dismantled and reshaped for the new casino. HBG designers lined up the casino structure on the same 60-foot-by-60-foot grid as the original project but decided to position the casino in the middle of the site instead to allow for the new casino and new parking garage to open simultaneously.

There is no doubt that the new casino will be successful. The temporary Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino was already one of downtown Buffalo’s most popular destinations, and Seneca Gaming Corporation officials expect the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino to stand out as one of the newest entertainment offerings in the revitalized Inner Harbor area.

“We strongly believe that the growth and success of our business will go hand-in-hand with the growth and success of the surrounding community,” explained Cathy Walker, Seneca Gaming Corporation president and CEO. “As more people discover the excitement that Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino offers, we want them to also experience all of the excitement of a beautiful, rejuvenated Inner Harbor area.”

There was not a seat free at the casino’s Aug. 27 grand opening night, including around the blackjack tables—this is the first time in the city’s history that table games have been offered in downtown Buffalo. And on the rooftop of the new 4-story parking garage, Seneca dignitaries, local officials and famous faces from western New York celebrated the casino’s grand opening.