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Schoellkopf Power House renovation may include soccer fields

The developer behind the conversion of the former Schoellkopf Connector and Power House buildings into a new mixed-use complex now has a new goal: introduce soccer fields to the mix.

Businessman Jon Williams is working to redevelop the 21.7-acre industrial site at the corner of Elk and Lee streets, near the Buffalo River, into a blend of office, residential and industrial space.

His South Buffalo Development LLC already received city approval last year for the $4.2 million project, under a "planned unit development" model that already allows for the intended uses at 229 Elk and 83 Lee.

But now he has a potential new user for some of the vacant land across the street from the main buildings, formerly home to Buffalo Color, and needs the Common Council to amend the original model to include "recreational uses."

Specifically, Williams is talking to another company about creating a single outdoor athletic field and an indoor athletic complex with multiple fields under one roof. Spokesman Phil Pantano would not identify the "user," except that "it's an entity with a great deal of experience locally."

Details are still in flux, although the fields would likely be used mostly on weekends. A formal site plan would still be submitted to the city for review, once an agreement is finalized with the potential user – possibly within weeks.

But such an athletic program would fill a gap in the city for recreational opportunities for youth, said attorney Marc Romanowski, who represents Williams.

"There's really a lack of them in the city of Buffalo," he said. "This is an unusual property, in that it's a large vacant parcel."

That's a site that's currently designated to include a 66-space parking lot, but Romanowski said the developer plans to keep that as part of the overall plan while still accommodating the soccer fields. He also agreed with Planning Board members that the land in question needs to be cleaned up, and noted that the entire site is already in the state Brownfield Cleanup Program, under state oversight.

The Planning Board recommended approval of the change by the Common Council.

Meanwhile, Pantano said pre-construction and site work is starting this week on the primary facilities that remain of the old Schoellkopf plant.

Williams already demolished part of the complex last year – the two-story former Ice House building – because of concerns about its stability, and now intends to renovate the two vacant and deteriorating buildings that are still standing.

The two-story Connector Building, which had linked the Ice House and Power House buildings, will be converted into 10,000 square feet of office space and two apartments on the second floor, with flex or retail space taking up the first floor. Williams' main business, Ontario Specialty Contracting, will occupy the office space for its new headquarters, relocating from its current home at 333 Ganson St., where it shares space with RiverWorks.

Meanwhile, the separate 26,142-square-foot Power House building would feature assembly or event space, capitalizing on its four-story height, unique design and arched windows.

Pantano said OSC plans to move in later this year, but no other tenants are firmed up yet for the residential or retail space.

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