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Buffalo's 'only outdoor paintball facility' coming to former East Side scrapyard

Splat!

That's a sound that could be heard frequently in part of Buffalo's East Side – along with screams of excitement and the sight of very colorful outfits – if two young entrepreneurs succeed with their plan to open an outdoor paintball facility near the intersection of William Street and Fillmore Avenue.

Partners Erik Hansen and Josh Burch, who also own a startup health care technology business in a North Buffalo incubator, are teaming up to create the business on the site of a former scrapyard that has been cleared of debris.

The proposed Normel Paintball would operate largely on weekends, as well as in daylight hours from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week, and would be the first of its kind in the City of Buffalo. It would be open for parties and individual play, as well as for tournaments with professional teams.

"We want to be the only outdoor paintball facility in Buffalo," Hansen said. "There's a lot of space for paintball. It's a great opportunity for not just the surrounding community on the East Side but also elsewhere."

The paintballs vary in size, averaging about an inch in diameter, and explode when they hit a hard surface, such as a person. Players will wear safety goggles and masks and specialized clothing.

"If you're covered in paint, that means you lost," Hansen said.

The partners want to obtain sponsorships to defray the costs of both setting up and operating the facility, which will include an office and a store to sell equipment, as well as concessions.

The total cost of the project could range between $20,000 and $35,000. Hansen said they hope to open by late July or early August.

The new facility would be the second business that Hansen and Burch started. They already own Normel Tech, a firm that specializes in assessing risk and compliance by health care companies with HIPAA, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

Currently based at 15 Beard Ave., the business was accepted into the Start-Up NY program and will be moving into Rocco Termini's new incubator at 155 Chandler St.

That's a lot different from paintball, which was Burch's idea for Hansen's vacant land. The proposed pie-wedge-shaped site, at 482 Howard St., is a 3.1-acre city block located at the corner of Howard and Thomas streets, with a rail line curving around the back. It's across the street from some residential houses and the Twilight Grill restaurant and bar, as well as a trucking company.

Hansen said his father has owned the property since the late 1980s, and had leased it for years to a scrapyard operator, who died three years ago. The site includes a pair of buildings and a lot of vacant land that is mostly a "thin layer of dirt" with "some grass," he said. He and Burch have already done some cleanup of the property, taking about two inches of soil off the top, and "now it looks like new," he added.

They plan to install 1,500 to 1,600 feet of specialized 20-foot high netting along the perimeter of the property "to make sure there's no paintballs going across" the boundaries, Hansen said.

They also intend to buy and install various obstacles around the property – including gutted old cars and concrete barriers – for players to hide behind during their games, which could also include capture the flag.

"We're going to make it very nice," Hansen said. "We'll make sure everyone is treated right."

The property is zoned as heavy industrial, so the partners are asking the Common Council to amend the zoning to light industrial, which would allow their proposed new use. The Buffalo Planning Board voiced its support for the amendment on Monday, with Vice Chair Cynthia Schwartz noting that "you've got absolutely nothing around you" to complicate the request.

"I think it's pretty neat," said Planning Board Chair James Morrell.

Hansen said the pair has also talked to neighbors and "everyone seems to be happy about something going in there that's not too noisy or a tear-down."

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