The towering concrete behemoths that dot Buffalo’s waterfront have been a point of contention in recent years as various agencies and businesses scratch for space along the river and lakefront. Among the many ideas people have had for Buffalo’s grain elevators, Jason Schwinger has put the wheels in motion on a groundbreaking idea.
Schwinger – adequately dubbed an entrepreneur of fun on the Silo City Rocks Indiegogo (please, please donate) page – is a partner with BFLO Harbor Kayak, has begun work to convert a major portion of the Marine A grain elevator on the Buffalo River into an indoor and outdoor climbing center. Silo City Rocks will be the name of the new venture that will feature a world record climb of 190 feet. Silo City Rocks will be a planned stop for those renting kayaks or paddleboards from BFLO Harbor Kayak and will also work in partnership with Campus Wheel Works.
I was lucky enough to get a tour of the Marine A complex that is nestled into the back corner of the Silo City complex that is reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic landscape of massive, towering buildings and barren ground. However, Silo City Rocks will bring life to an area that has been beginning to see more interest.
The vision is to bring bouldering, rock climbing, yoga and numerous other activities to the elevator. While the project will not use every square foot of the grain elevator – it is truly one of the most awe-inspiring places to wander through – it will use a handful of the interior silos along with numerous areas on the exterior of the elevator. This will go from a grain elevator to a man-made mountain, in many ways.
The northern face of the elevator is where the world-record climb will be located as the main tower of the old elevator rises 190 feet above the ground with a vertical face pock-marked by windows. The climb will be nothing short of challenging, although Schwinger envisions a platform about halfway up for shorter climbs to the top of the building.
Marine A’s southern face will not be in service immediately, however the proximity to the Buffalo River should make this face for a perfect location for ice climbing in the future. Keep your eyes open for the southern face to transform into a man-made glacier next winter.
Inside is where the coolest transformation will occur. A pair of bouldering rooms and retail space will occupy the rooms in the very front of the building (opening to the north face) with a 120-foot climbing room rising into one of the elevator’s many silos. Other areas immediately around the north face will serve as space for the yoga room, community room and other uses.
Schwinger has a number of plans for the next step of the project. I won’t spoil any of those as Jason’s work to put them into place hasn’t yet begun, but I can assure you they will only make this project that much cooler. Expect to see more added to the project come winter and into next summer with the primary attractions opening up here in 2013.
The true attraction to the space, for myself, is the incredible size of the building. There is no way to truly appreciate how awesome the grain elevators are until you walk (or paddle) amongst them. Silo City might not be adaptable to many uses, but it is certainly the most interesting part of the city. More so than Canalside, Larkin or Elmwood, I could spend hours meandering through the various portions of Silo City.
Silo City as a whole is an intertwined grid of partially paved streets, abandoned elevators and soon enough, a rock climbing center. This is an area that is serene despite being overwhelmingly industrial. Your perception of size is incredibly skewed when you’re on the ground, I can only imagine what the views will be like from the top of any of the climbs at Silo City Rocks.
What is so incredibly exciting about this project is that it is happening. This isn’t something that has been scribbled down on a cocktail napkin, this is a working business that is working to open this summer.
Climbing routes are already planned, test holes have already been drilled in preparation of mounting climbing holds in the coming days and weeks. There is plenty of structural work that needs to be completed in many areas of the building. There isn’t a window in the complex that hasn’t been broken in some form and there are no doors to seal the interior from unwanted visitors. But there is still time as well.
With a target of this summer for opening, there are still two full months to complete the necessary work to seal the exterior of the building – particularly on the ground floor – and set up the initial bouldering room and first climbing routes.
As a business owner who has been a Canalside mainstay for five years, I credit Schwinger and his partners for kicking this into high gear immediately. This is an attraction that will keep you busy for hours on end. This isn’t just a painted lawn chair and comes pre-cast in the design standard of the surrounding neighborhood, all the Rocks crew needed to do is adapt their project to fit into Marine A.
Silo City Rocks happens to sit smack in the middle of a number of exciting projects. It is a five-minute walk to the intersection of Childs and Ohio Streets (an area tabbed as part of the Ohio Corridor project), a two minute drive to the Outer Harbor and an equally short drive to the Arena District that encompasses Canalside, Cobblestone and the Casino district.
Just imagine driving downtown, leaving your car around Canalside, grabbing a kayak on the Wharf and taking a spin down the river. You’ll be able to pull your kayak out at Silo City Rocks (they’re building a dock), do some climbing, or just sight see around Silo City and then head back to Canalside to find a bite to eat (if only they had a few more restaurants).
I’ve said for a while that Canalside needs things to do. Pairing what BFLO Harbor Kayak with something that is not only cool and fun, but incredibly unique injects the exact kind of attractions to the waterfront that are largely lacking.
There may not be a concrete date for opening Silo City Rocks, but I know I’ll be making my way around the various climbs this summer.