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Silo City reimagined as a place for artists to live, work

The owner of the Silo City complex along the Buffalo River is partnering with a Florida developer to turn the peninsula of old grain silos and warehouses into a residential and artistic community.

Miami-based Generation Development Group – led by managing principals Marvin Wilmoth and Anthony Ceroy – is working with Rigidized Metals Corp. CEO Rick Smith on a plan to convert the cluster of more than a dozen buildings into apartments, retail space and artists' studios.

The goal is to maintain the historic integrity of the properties while building on the creative activities that are already occurring at Silo City, which Smith owns.

"What’s really important to us is making sure we’re continuing to build on the creative infrastructure already there at Silo City," said Wilmoth, whose company will become the majority owner of the redeveloped facility. "We’re going to be thinking through the programmatic elements with some of the artistic groups that are there."

Details are still being developed, but tentative plans for the first phase – expected to cost between $30 million and $40 million – call for about 150 residential units in the brick structures, including market-rate apartments, affordable workforce housing and artists' live-work lofts.

Gallery spaces, studios and other uses are also possible in the future, depending on the desires of the community and especially the artists – which would include not only the visual arts but also musicians and early startup businesses, Wilmoth said.

"It’s still very preliminary," Wilmoth said. "We want to make sure artists of all types, whether you’re initially starting out in your career, have the opportunity to live, work and be creative here."

The site consists of six parcels along Childs Street, which extends northeast from Ohio Street at the intersection with Ganson Street. Those parcels make up the former American, Perot and Marine A grain elevator complexes that in turn comprise Silo City.

Rick Smith, owner of Silo City, and his partners at Generation Development Group are seeking to rezone Silo City to allow for residential, retail and other uses. (Courtesy of Buffalo Planning Board)

They were constructed in 1906, 1907 and 1925, respectively, and at least one building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

A fourth facility, the Lake and Rail Elevator, was sold to a Minnesota hedge fund in 2008.

Besides warehouses and offices, the buildings include marine towers where grain was unloaded from ships, workhouses and silos where the grain was transferred and stored, malt houses where grain was processed, and mills where grain was milled and then shipped.

"We have always tried to treat the concrete, the storage silos themselves, as sacred. What makes the scale of Silo City so spectacular is the 120 feet of continuous or unperforated walls of concrete," Smith said.

"It's generational. To my father’s generation, they were constant reminders of our economic failures. And to us and our millennial artists, they are cool cultural icons sitting on the most awesome stretch of the Buffalo River."

The developers, working with architects at Carmina Wood Morris PC, plan an adaptive reuse project that will "preserve the historic architecture" of the exterior while using the interiors as much as allowed, Wilmoth said.

"There are no plans to tear any of the buildings down, or to make alterations to the physical nature of the silos," he said. "We believe that’s a very incredible part of the history and makeup of Silo City and we don’t want to detract from that at all."

The properties – with addresses of 139, 145, 151 and 157 Buffalo River and 2 and 3 Lot Line – are zoned for light industrial. So Smith and Generation are first asking the Buffalo Planning Board and Common Council to change the zoning of the 13.44-acre site to allow for residential, retail and other uses.

Once that's completed, Wilmoth said they will discuss a range of ideas with some of the 20-plus groups already doing work at Silo City under Smith, and then come back to the city for site plan approval with a "more detailed artist-focused programmatic implementation that will be exciting for everyone."

"Anyone who is doing good artistic work will be engaged," he said. "We want to make sure that Buffalonians have an opportunity to put their fingerprints on this as we go forward, especially those in the artistic community. If there’s a unique use that the community can get behind, we’ll have the flexibility to work with them to make that come to fruition."

Wilmoth said he could not project how long the entire venture would take, but noted that each phase would probably have an 18-month "rolling timeline."

A look at the heights and shapes of the Silo City complex. (Courtesy of Buffalo Planning Board)

This is the second project in Buffalo for Generation, which Wilmoth and Ceroy formed in 2013, as both were still senior developers at Cincinnati-based Miller-Valentine Group and later as vice presidents at KCG Development, an Indianapolis-based firm.

Wilmoth and Ceroy – first through Miller-Valentine and later at KCG – took on the redevelopment of the former Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company Warehouse at 545 Swan St., transforming the historic daylight factory into the AP Lofts at Larkinville, which opened for tenants earlier this year. Generation was also a partner in that $42 million project, but has now split completely from KCG.

"Adaptive reuse has its difficulties, but we believe in the City of Buffalo as a growing and vibrant community," Wilmoth said. "There’s a lot of support for creative development and we’re happy to be part of that. We think Buffalo is a city that is definitely moving forward in the right direction."

Wilmoth said he and Ceroy met Smith "several years ago" and "were able to see some of the amazing, creative connections that were happening at Silo City."

"We wanted to make sure we built a community that helped Rick see his vision for Silo City, for a creative city," he said. "He’s definitely a visionary, and we’re really excited about the potential for Silo City, as a community for Buffalo and also a destination for those in the region."

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