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Schoellkopf Ice House targeted for redevelopment

Jon Williams wants to bring a historic Buffalo industrial power complex – complete with its towering smokestack – back to life as office, restaurant and living space.

Williams' Ontario Specialty Contracting, which owns the former Schoellkopf Icehouse at 229 Elk St. and 83 Lee St., is seeking to convert the Valley neighborhood building into a mixed-use development.

Through his South Buffalo Development LLC, Williams wants to turn the vacant two-story brick building into professional offices, two apartments, and a flex space with a kitchenette for tenant gatherings, event space, or other commercial or restaurant purposes.

Ontario Specialty, whose current 10,000-square-foot headquarters shares a large building at 333 Ganson St. with RiverWorks, will relocate its offices to a similar amount of space on the second floor of the new building. That will enable the entertainment complex that he owns with Earl Ketry and Doug Swift to expand and fill out the rest of the building at Ganson, said Tess Williams, project manager and daughter of Ontario Specialty's CEO.

The rest of the second floor, totaling about 20,000 square feet, is currently being eyed by another potential tenant, which might also take up the rest of the building's office space. She would not identify the business, because it's not yet a done-deal. But she said it's an existing Buffalo company that the Williams family wants to keep in Buffalo to retain jobs in the city.

"We're pretty fond of the city," said Williams, a Cornell University hotel management graduate who moved back to Buffalo from Florida to help her father with the project after getting into development and adaptive reuse work. "I grew up here, and it's time to come back."

Additionally, the project plans currently include a one-bedroom apartment and a two-bedroom apartment, totaling about 4,000 square feet, but Williams said that could change depending on the "exciting new developments" with the other tenant's plans.

The $7 million adaptive reuse project will be completed in accordance with National Park Service and State Historic Preservation Office guidelines to qualify for federal and state historic tax credits. The overall property, located near the Buffalo River and the SolarCity project at Riverbend, is also a former brownfield site, and will qualify for state brownfield tax credits.

"It's an incredible, beautiful site. An industrial cathedral, I call it," she said. "They wanted to tear it down, and we'd like to make it into something."

Williams' company has owned the 74,881-square-foot building since 2009, when it purchased the 6.03-acre property near the former Buffalo Creek Railroad tracks at a tax auction for $80,000. The developer had announced plans in March 2010 to convert it into a rail museum, but that plan never came to fruition.

The site, built in 1917 by the John P. Cowper Co. and once part of the Schoellkopf Aniline and Chemical Co., also includes a single-story but much taller 26,142-square-foot Powerhouse building located behind the Icehouse.

A photo of the original Schoellkopf Power House

While both buildings will remain intact, plans call for focusing for now on the icehouse, which "is vacant and shows signs of great deterioration," according to a letter to the Buffalo Planning Board from Carmina Wood Morris PC architect Michael Bray.

"We do plan to restore the power house, just not in this first phase," Tess Williams said, adding that the firm already has a stabilization permit from the city.

According to the letter and site plan application, the exterior work on the building will consist of restoring deteriorated brick and mortar, installing new and restored windows, restoring existing window sills or installing new ones that match, and putting in new doors under historic preservation standards. The building will also get new roofing over the flat area.

Additionally, Williams intends to add an enclosure to the east and south sides of the building's interior, creating new lobbies and entrances. And the project will include 66 parking spaces across the street at 83 Lee, on land that Williams also owns.

Besides Carmina, the developer also is working with Studio T3 Engineering and JTVaeth Construction LLC on the project. The project, the developer said, would "maintain the integrity of the existing building, finance the new construction and ultimately provide a plan which will allow the building to become an asset to the community."

The project was slated to be considered by the Planning Board on Monday, but has now been delayed because of potential changes in plans for the new tenant, said Tess Williams. A special-use permit is also required from the Common Council.

If approved, she said, officials hope to start construction in May and finish within 12 months after completing the core-and-shell of the building to make it weather-tight for the rest of the work.

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