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Casino may keep H-O silos after all Architects to design two sets of plans: one with grain elevators, one without

The H-O Oats grain elevators on the site of the planned Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown Buffalo might have a future as part of the casino complex.

The Seneca Gaming Corp., now in the process of selecting an architect to design the Buffalo gambling facility, has asked the five finalists to come up with two sets of plans -- one incorporating the milling structures and one without them.

"If it is feasible to include them into the design in some way, we'd like to see that option," said Seneca Gaming spokesman Phil Pantano. "Absolutely no decision has been made about the silos. We need to see how they might fit into our vision for Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino and at what cost."

Following the Seneca Nation's selection of a nine-acre site along Michigan Avenue in the city's Cobblestone District, preservationists raised concerns about the fate of the elevators. Erected in 1931 at the corner of Marvin and Perry streets as part of the H-O Oats milling operation, the cluster of elevators has been idle since 1983.

In 2002, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation made the elevators eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but that process was never initiated.

The Senecas recently finished demolishing the derelict milling and warehouse structures that stood next to the silos, but the elevators remain untouched. Despite the outcry from the preservation community, the Senecas had remained quiet regarding the possible inclusion of the silos in the casino blueprints until now.

"I think this is just terrific," said John Laping, chairman of the Buffalo Preservation Board. "We'll have to see what they ultimately decide, but I think it would be very difficult to oppose a casino plan from a preservation point of view if they find a way to reuse the elevators."

Laping noted that grain elevators in other cities have found new life through adaptive reuse. In Akron, Ohio, a series of abandoned silos was transformed into the Crowne Plaza Hotel, with guests enjoying the unique experience of "round rooms."

Elsewhere, unused grain elevators have become home to retail shops, a cruise ship terminal and offices.

While the Seneca Nation has opened the door to making the H-O Oats silos part of its casino plan if the cost is not prohibitive, it also is researching the cost to raze them. Pantano confirmed Seneca Gaming has solicited bids from several demolition companies to bring the elevators down.

"We want to know the bottom line of all our options, and demolition is one those options. We can't make any final decisions without looking at all the potential costs," Pantano said.

After breaking ground for the casino Dec. 9, the Senecas appeared to be in hurry-up mode to get the long-delayed Erie County gambling project under way. They quickly began a national search for an architect, setting a Jan. 31 target date to pick the design firm.

That timetable has been relaxed considerably. The gaming corporation, which is considering a field of five firms for the job, now does not expect to make that decision until late March.

"The Seneca Gaming Corp. wants to take its time to make the right selection, not only to help the Seneca Nation create something fantastic, but keeping in mind the impact this project will have on downtown Buffalo," Pantano said.

The Senecas have asked the designers to come up with plans for a 100,000-square-foot casino with room for 2,200 slot machines, 50 gambling tables, a fine-dining restaurant, buffet and small retail shop. A 2,500-vehicle parking ramp and a casino operations center are also part of the project.

The designers were asked to create a complex that could accommodate a future 250-room hotel with meeting rooms and banquet halls.

Under their state gaming compact, the Senecas have until Dec. 9, 2007, to get their Buffalo casino up and running.

The casino project faces a court challenge from a group of local residents who question how the federal government handled approval of the Senecas' casino-related land acquisition and that land's conversion to sovereign territory.


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