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Editorial: Going with the grain at Silo City

It might take a village to realize the full potential of Buffalo’s Silo City.

Plans were revealed this week to turn the site into a residential and artistic community, with Silo City owner Rick Smith partnering with Generation Development Group of Miami in the venture.

Smith, the CEO of Rigidized Metals Corp., is the entrepreneur who purchased the 12-acre site, with several massive grain elevators, for $120,000 back in 2006. After his initial plan to produce ethanol there fizzled out, he decided to embrace the postindustrial aura of the property, developing Silo City into a hub of cultural and tourism activities, including walking tours, boat excursions on the Buffalo River, and art, poetry, music and film events.

The new plan, to convert the collection of buildings into apartments, retail space and artists’ studios, will take advantage of the property’s unique aesthetics and choice location along the river, bringing another blast of “New Buffalo” energy to the Old First Ward.

The Silo City land is zoned for light industrial use, so Smith and First Generation need to petition the Buffalo Planning Board and Common Council to change the zoning to allow for residential and retail use. The change should be approved for this project, which could transform another piece of Buffalo’s waterfront by incorporating its past.

What’s intriguing about Silo City’s vision is its appeal to artists, whether they work in visual arts, music or spoken word. Buffalo’s vibrant cultural scene is part of what draws younger people here from other cities and towns. As the city continues to experience a loss in population, it needs to play up its strengths, giving more suburban residents a reason to leave strip malls and big-box retail behind to partake in the pleasures of the city’s cultural scene.

About 150 residential units would be built in the first phase, with a mix of housing that will include live-work lofts for artists. The project could amount to 400 apartments by completion.

Expanding upon what Smith has produced at Childs and Ohio streets will further enhance Buffalo’s reawakened waterfront and put another latent asset back into use.

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