The potential impact of the proposed $35 million Buffalo RiverWorks project - a transformative, entertainment-based mixed used development on the former Kelly Island industrial site - goes far beyond the bricks-and-mortar needed for the project.
Many feel, the project could serve as a tipping point that will lead other developers to the shores of the Buffalo River, especially alongside other developments in the same South Buffalo/First Ward area.
"This completely validates everything we've been trying to and the message we've been trying to get out," said Tom Dee, president of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.
The project dovetails perfectly with the investments being made in the nearby Canalside District, fueled by both private- and public-sector dollars.
"It's all part of the synergy that comes coming from Canalside's evolution," Dee said. "We don't have a direct say in how this is going to be developed, but we are very interested bystanders."
Buffalo RiverWorks, set for an eight-acre Ganson Street property owned by Ontario Specialty Contracting Inc. President Jon Williams, calls for renovating many of the existing structures including the long vacant GLF grain elevator include an entertainment and recreational center that will house a pair of hockey rinks, an event/concert center, bars and restaurants incorporated into the existing silos, a sand beach, boat slips, a 100 room hotel and brewery. Development partners include local architect/developer Doug Swift, Earl Ketry, owner of Pearl Street Grill & Brewery and Williams.
The project will be developed in phases, although Swift said certain elements will be fast tracked including the seasonal rinks. The rinks will be used by Labatt for its annual pond hockey tournament, set for February.
Swift said the other phases could be completed by next summer.
"This isn't a plan that's going to be announced and then people are going to have to wait two years to see its first phases developed," Swift said.
Development plans have been submitted to the Buffalo Planning Board, who begin its review later this month. Talks are also underway with the Erie County Industrial Development Agency and Empire State Development Co. about tax breaks and incentives to help finance the project.
Ketry, however, said the bulk of the project will be privately funded.
"We're putting our own money at risk," Ketry said. "But, we also see this as a game changer for the city and the community."
Both Swift and Ketry said they view Buffalo RiverWorks as a destination and a development magnet that will attract visitors from such places as Toronto, Detroit and Pittsburgh.
The rinks will play a big role in that effort. During the winter months, they will house youth and amateur hockey leagues and tournaments. They will also be used to develop a strong curling foundation in the region. The nearest major curling center is in Niagara Falls, Ont.
During the summer months, the rinks will be used for lacrosse, roller hockey and other events.
Swift and Ketry also the rink complex will be marketed as a concert and events center that can house up to 5,000 people. The region lacks a mid-sized concert venue for those shows and productions that can attract between 3,500 and 5,000 patrons.
"Imagine the backdrop of concerts being held against the Buffalo River backdrop," Ketry said. "It will be awesome."
At $35 million, Buffalo RiverWorks is one of the largest private sector-driven investments to take place along the Buffalo River area. It comes as the $11 million Ohio Street reconstruction into a picturesque boulevard is about to begin and other developers, like Sam Savarino, are pushing ahead with projects like the Lake Freight House conversion into an $18 million residential complex.
"People should be very excited about what's happening at the water's edge," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, a major waterfront development advocate. "One accomplishment inspires the next."