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Getting behind lighting the grain elevators

Filed under: Development, Waterfront

Guest submission by Chris Ostrander

Yesterday’s post on the decision to accept proposals for a children’s museum at Canalside was particularly venomous. There was a bit of Canalside news that came out yesterday afternoon that I did want to address.

It would seem that ECHDC is prepared to shell out some dough to light up grain elevators along Buffalo’s waterfront. Without coming across as a complete hypocrite, I have to say the plan to light the grain elevators is a good one. I’m a pretty well documented opponent of the lighter, quicker, cheaper approach, but this is an instance where the strategy makes sense.

The grain elevators that line the Buffalo River are great cathedrals of Buffalo’s industrial past. They’re so formidable that they’re virtually impossible to demolish – without ridiculous overhead – and they possess a “rugged masculinity” in terms of architecture. The simple fact that these behemoths are so massive and immovable makes them a potential albatross for waterfront development. Finding a simple use of them is nearly the only solution.

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There are options out there for utilizing the elevators for something other than a movie screen. However, such plans would be ridiculously expensive and quite difficult to pull off. Personally, I’d love to see the Connecting Terminal (pictured) serve as the terminus for a full tour of Buffalo’s grain elevators. If possible, the roof could be reinforced and renovated to provide the foundation for a grain elevator museum with unparalleled views of the lake, river and city. The museum would be the starting and ending point for a tour that would take people up the river through to elevator alley to teach all about the history of the grain elevator in Buffalo and around the country. Not to mention, a museum on top of the Connecting Terminal would look fantastic.

For the time being, it would seem as if public art and LED lighting will have to do regarding the use of Buffalo’s grain elevators. Like I said, this is a great decision.

The Peace Bridge looks phenomenal at night and adding this same feature to the grain elevators will only enhance the look of the waterfront during the night. I would have to assume the Connecting Terminal and the GLF Elevators will be the guinea pigs for this study. They both are located nearest the city and are easily viewed by the public.

I’m still waiting to see the public art project slated for the Connecting Terminal to take flight. For those reading, is that starting this summer or still in the planning stages? If there is an awesome, large mural placed on the face of that elevator and then bathed in LED light on a nightly basis, it would be something really cool to look at for anyone paying a visit to Canalside.

Just this morning, I was saying how silly the lighter, quicker, cheaper approach is for developing Canalside. I’m not abandoning that opinion. The entire neighborhood shouldn’t be hitched to a plan that, to this point, has been centered around a hot dog stand, lawns and deck chairs. However, there are facets to the approach that make perfect sense. Just like lighting up the grain elevators.

My biggest beef with Canalside has been with the lack of things to do. A hot dog stand and deck chairs don’t give me a reason to linger longer than 15-20 minutes. Painting and lighting up a grain elevator won’t keep me around for an hour or two, but it certainly will give me cause to hang out for a while longer than before. Until those planning and implementing Canalside realize that people need things to do, I doubt that there will be major steps taken to create this neighborhood into a true destination. Making these ancillary additions is not a bad thing when they add to the greater momentum of the development. When ancillary additions are considered steps forward, there is a problem.

Adding light to the Skyway and grain elevators shouldn’t even need to be studied. It should have just been done. The added atmosphere would be a great plus and would eventually provide a terrific backdrop for those wandering the cobblestone streets after eating dinner at one of the restaurants in the district. (See how easy this is?)

I’m glad to see ECHDC make this move, it is a smart decision. What they now need to realize is attractions like a carousel and a children’s museum won’t bring in those who will enjoy the ambiance of an illuminated grain elevator. Kids are usually in bed by the time it is dark.

It is coming time for ECHDC to get serious and pursue restaurants and bars to occupy space in Canalside. That way, when there is an established nightlife scene, there will be an audience to enjoy the lights.

Chris Ostrander covers Buffalo sports and downtown Buffalo development issues at his site, Two In the Box. Follow Chris on Twitter @2ITB_Buffalo


  • Brett

    No surprise here…Chris, the single, sports jersey wearing dude, argues for bars and nightlife. Alan, the suburban family guy with two kids, argues for family attractions. My opinion… Can’t we have both?

    The fascists reply… “we shall have neither. Cross us and we will SUE”. Lol

  • Jim

    They’re obsolete, decaying GRAIN ELEVATORS, for God’s sakes , not the Pyramids of Giza. They should be blown down to make way for the FUTURE. They should have been blown down decades ago. Good grief, where else but Buffalo would people get behind lighting up (at great expense) such hideous eyesores. How about pretty lights for what’s left of the hulking rusted remnants of Bethlehem Steel, why not? No wonder Buffalo is the laughing stock of the Western world. Unreal.

  • Joseph Coppola

    Grain elevators are not going to revitalize the city. These disgusting rat traps should have been raized years ago. I truely love my Buffalo, but why do so many people have their heads up their asses about this. These are not the 8th Wonder of the World. Come on folks…

  • http://www.buffalostuff.net peteherr

    @Jim and @Joseph Coppola – The cost too knock them down is huge. I am for it, by the way, but someone’s got to fund it. I believe there are massive abatement costs for what I assume is both lead and asbestos.

  • Kate

    I was about to point this out, then I saw it right in the article you guys are commenting on:
    “They’re so formidable that they’re virtually impossible to demolish – without ridiculous overhead.”
    That, in a nutshell, is why we still have the grain elevators. Have you ever been down to see those things up close? Drop a nuclear bomb on Buffalo and they’ll still be here. It’s several million dollars just to take one down. Until some really big-time developer comes up with a project that is a license to print money and can’t go anywhere but on the site of the elevators, they will be with us.

    Might as well learn to appreciate them and try to make something of them, because they will most likely outlive all of us commenting here today. And lots of people actually appreciate them already. Every summer, the Industrial Heritage Committee holds boat tours on the Miss Buffalo of the grain elevators. They always sell out, and sales of their book on the grain elevators are always brisk, too. No, they’re not going to revitalize Buffalo, but there’s no reason why they can’t be part of the picture. Especially since they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

  • http://twointhebox.com Chris O

    @Brett – I’d welcome a broad sweeping development that offered activities for everyone. That is what makes the Navy Pier and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor so great. What I fear is that the development is going to ignore a major portion of the public they’re trying to draw in.

    I don’t want Chippewa. I want to see some restaurants that can bring people in and keep them at Canalside. I’ve been down a number of times and I’m always hard pressed to stay for any longer than 30 mintues.

  • Andrew Kulyk

    The commenters here are spot on… Removal would cost millions. Stabilizing and cleaning up the buildings, lighting them up and then developing around them is the way to go. Quebec City did it right!