Silo City has become an integral and inspirational part of Buffalo’s arts and recreation scene. Major theatrical events, music festivals, poetry readings, historic land and water tours, kayaking, etc., entice the public to the banks of the Buffalo River.
As The Public’s Aaron Lowinger proclaimed last month, “Perhaps no cultural revelation in Buffalo these past 10 years is more important to the city’s past and future … than the reintroduction of the vast array of grain silos at Silo City into Buffalo’s civic life.” Likewise, the Buffalo News has described the Silo City experience as “transformative, for the viewer, participants and the city they love.”
Silo City, in its current glory, would not exist if Buffalo City Hall – including the City Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Common Council (with the exception on then-Council President David Franczyk), and Mayor Byron Brown – had their way a decade ago. And, most likely, Western New Yorkers would not have been enjoying the “Music is Art” festival this past weekend at the Buffalo RiverWorks complex, around the bend of the Buffalo River from Silo City.
Rather, an imposing 18-acre ethanol-producing plant would be covering the Silo City site, consuming a million gallons of water per day, discharging 300,000 gallons of wastewater to the Buffalo Sewer Authority daily, and impacting the surrounding community with its odor, noise, and river and rail traffic.
But, alas, the ethanol plant was never built, a victim of market forces. The brains behind the project – RiverWright Energy’s Rick Smith III and Greg Stevens – pulled the plug on the facility despite having obtained all the necessary zoning approvals from City Hall and a permit from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to construct and operate the plant. As Buffalo News reporter David Robinson wrote in an October 2011 article, “All of a sudden, making ethanol went from being a highly profitable business to one that, at best, was earning only a few nickels on the gallon or, at worst, was losing money.”
Ironically, Rick Smith, a motivating force behind both the late ethanol plant proposal and Silo City, seemingly failed to appreciate the cultural and recreational value of the historic silos. The environmental assessment forms submitted on his behalf in late 2006 insisted that the ethanol-production facility would not adversely affect aesthetic resources important to the community, or existing or future recreational opportunities.
It’s my prediction (and, yes, hope) that a comparable fate awaits Queen City Landing’s 23-story, glass-and-steel mixed-use tower proposed for the former Freezer Queen parcel on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. That is, that markets forces will compel the project sponsors to abandon the project, allowing the site and nearby waterfront resources – including the Small Boat Harbor, Greenway trail, Tifft Nature Preserve, etc. – to thrive.
I have long believed that there isn’t a strong enough demand for luxury apartments to support a 200-unit structure at the former Freezer Queen site. Not only are there few nearby amenities to satisfy up-scale residents, Lake Erie’s winds and prolific snow make the site less-than-attractive for a substantial period of each year.
There are noteworthy parallels between the proposed ethanol plant and 200-unit apartment tower. In both cases:
– When submitting their proposals to City Hall, the project sponsors appeared more focused on potential profits (and, perhaps, their own egos), than realistic market forces.
– The city’s Planning Board turned its collective eye away from obvious environmental issues, and issued a “Negative Declaration” rather than requiring the developer to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.
– Zoning standards meant to protect Buffalo’s coastal areas and shoreline were ignored.
– A handful of concerned city residents had the courage to challenge the proposed project at public hearings and in the courts. [Full disclosure: I represented three Old First Ward residents in opposing the proposed ethanol plant, as well as four Outer Harbor activists in fighting the 23-story tower project.]
Obviously, I have no way of knowing what the principals at Queen City Landing, LLC are thinking. And, you can bet, they wouldn’t publicly admit it if they were abandoning the project. But, if visuals are any indication, the sponsors of the QCL mixed-use development may have already moved on from their towering dream. Queen City Landing’s official site has not changed (in any apparent way) for years, and the only advertisement at the site for the proposed project is a soiled banner obscured behind weeds and a chain link fence.
There is hope for the Outer Harbor’s future.
With All Due Respect,