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Structural concerns delay Schoellkopf Ice House project

Plans for the historic restoration and adaptive reuse of the old Schoellkopf ice house are on hold amid concerns about the structural integrity of parts of the historic building in Buffalo's Valley neighborhood.

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

The $7 million proposal by his South Buffalo Development would include renovation of the abandoned ice house and power house buildings at 229 Elk St. and 83 Lee St., and construction of a new 35,000-square-foot prefabricated warehouse and light manufacturing facility, on six acres of land.

Williams' primary business, Ontario Specialty Contracting, plans to occupy some of the office space in the three-story ice house for its headquarters, which would relocate from its current site at 333 Ganson St., where the company shares the building with Riverworks. The rest of the 74,881-square-foot ice house building would feature two residential apartments and additional commercial space.

Officials had hoped to start construction in August and finish by December 2018, according to the Planning Board documents.

However, those plans are now on hold and may change, as officials discovered potential problems during "ongoing stabilization work" that "could impact the level of redevelopment possible in the Ice House," project spokesman Phil Pantano said.

He said that while crews were securing the building and examining the roof and masonry, they "found some items that we wanted to take a closer look at." He would not elaborate.

Ontario Specialty still intends to move its offices to the building, he added, saying that's not affected. But "before we put together a final site plan, we want to know what structurally we can and can't do there," he said.

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 that the developer plans to reopen.

"The space in the power house can be spectacular," said attorney Marc Romanowski of Hopkins Sorgi & Romanowski, speaking this week to the city Planning Board. "We think it could make a really cool venue space."

Work on the existing buildings would include restoration of the brick masonry and windows, replica replacements where needed, new exterior doors and other windows, and a new lobby entrance. The new single-story warehouse would be built on vacant land just to the north of the two structures. The project would also include a 66-space parking lot to be constructed on the other side of Lee, as well as new sidewalks.

Williams has applied to the city for approval of a "planned unit development" for the large swath of land, which would give him more flexibility for a broader blend of mostly commercial uses than what would be permitted in the current heavy-industrial zoning classification.

"We think there are a host of really exciting development opportunities and uses for that site overall, and we really look forward to exploring those," Pantano said.

For example, a planned unit development would allow for apartments, event space, a trade school, a restaurant or tavern, self-storage, professional offices or a hotel, among others.

"It's very unique. It's a very interesting site," Romanowski said. "All of this is driven by finding creative uses for the boiler house in particular."

Additionally, documents filed with the Planning Board show the developer projecting four additional buildings on the other 15.8 acres of vacant land on both sides of Lee - three warehouse or distribution facilities and one 15,000-square-foot mixed-use building. In all, the project would have 346,023 square feet of building space.

Williams is working with Tim Vaeth's JTVaeth Construction on the project. Officials had hoped to start construction in August and finish by December 2018, according to the Planning Board documents.

An environmental review is expected to be completed by July 3, after which a revised site plan may be presented. But the Planning Board doesn't meet in August, so final action could be delayed until September.

Schoellkopf Ice House targeted for redevelopment

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