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Editorial: RiverWorks is a shimmering example of how renewal breeds more renewal

Who would have ever thought that the rundown area along the Buffalo River that included an old grain elevator at 333 Ganson St. would evolve into one of the City of Buffalo’s coolest places?

A recent Buffalo News story by reporter Jonathan Epstein described how Earl Ketry and developer Doug Swift, with the help of other investors, built something amazing out of rubble – literally.

Twenty years ago, Ketry began the effort that has turned the Pearl Street Grill and Brewery into the entertainment juggernaut it is today. His latest project has expanded the rebirth of the waterfront by moving it into an area long ago left for dead.

When Ketry and his partners set out, not that many years ago, on the project now well known as RiverWorks, it seemed to be an absurd dream for an uninviting location – the former GLF grain complex on Buffalo’s riverfront. That dream started to take shape more than a decade ago, as people began thinking seriously about improving the Inner Harbor area now known as Canalside. Few were thinking about the stretch of the Buffalo River less than a mile upstream. They do now.

RiverWorks welcomed nearly 2 million people through its doors in the first year, according to Swift. And the numbers are growing quickly, thanks to events that draw 20,000 to 30,000 people over a weekend. It all makes more plausible Ketry’s stated vision of a “four-day weekend” destination that capitalizes on regional resources to lure out-of-town and out-of-state visitors.

RiverWorks is an example of private-sector investment following public infrastructure improvements. Canalside, Ohio Street corridor improvements and the ongoing major federal cleanup of the Buffalo River all helped create the environment for private projects.

Two good-sized residential projects going up directly across the river from RiverWorks are another encouraging sign.

RiverWorks opened in 2014 with ice rinks, the Labatt Blue Pond Hockey Tournament and a host of other sporting events. The Ward Restaurant and Catering opened in July 2015, followed by a brewery, tours and kayaking. There is 750 feet of dock space to accommodate the increasingly common boating traffic. In the future: A hotel, observation deck and adventure attractions.

The Queen City Roller Girls, who once played in North Tonawanda, now call RiverWorks home. The calendar is filled with sanctioned sporting events, from wrestling, curling, skating and ice hockey to jujitsu and amateur mixed martial arts. If there’s a recreational sport out there, it’s probably being featured at RiverWorks.

It isn’t difficult to get excited about this addition to the entertainment scene, which Swift and Ketry have started calling the “Middle Harbor,” to go along with the Inner and Outer harbors. The name plays off the fact that one route from downtown to the Outer Harbor, which is undergoing its own renaissance, passes by RiverWorks’ front door.

Unlikely as it seemed, RiverWorks became a success story by going against the flow, creating a major attraction on the dust of the city’s past.

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