Back in the 1920s, nobody ever questioned what to do with grain elevators on the Buffalo waterfront.
They stored grain.
But now the old Cargill Pool Grain Elevator adjacent to Gallagher Beach will be sold at public bid June 5, and auctioneer Cash Cunningham says that anything could lie in store for the historic outer harbor fixture.
Maybe some entrepreneurial type can turn what was last known as South End Marina into a hotel or restaurant – like in Akron, Ohio.
Or perhaps the 1925 structure is destined to remain a marina, like the one that former Fire Commissioner Fred D. Langdon and partner Bill Mackey ran for more than 30 years.
The worst-case scenario is that the parcel will continue to remain vacant.
But as the owners look to divest themselves of the historic structure, the future of the south end of the Buffalo waterfront is now in question.
“It could be any number of things,” Cunningham said. “Anyone creative can do something, even if just for large billboards.”
One possibility – government ownership – does not appear likely, at least as far as Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. is concerned. A spokesman says the state agency will not bid, even though it is now working with the City of Buffalo on plans for a joint purchase of 384 adjacent acres of outer harbor land from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
“We have no plans there but will be more than willing to work with a future developer,” said harbor development spokesman Pete Gallivan.
The city’s plans remain unknown. Mayoral spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge did not return calls seeking comment, though the city is interested in the NFTA Small Boat Harbor in the future and currently owns Erie Basin Marina.
Still, the land offers intriguing potential. Cunningham is advertising its 12.2-acre plot plus 6 acres of privately owned water, Lake Erie access on three sides, and its proximity to Gallagher Beach and the Small Boat Harbor. He also notes that the sellers are willing to help finance the transaction.
Rick Smith, president of Rigidized Metals and owner of the Silo City elevator complex at Childs and Ohio streets, recognizes the potential in all of Buffalo’s historic elevators, even if his own investments have not always paid off. He announced plans in 2006 to convert the former ConAgra structures into storage facilities for corn used in ethanol production.
But that idea died in 2009 when the ethanol market abruptly evaporated. Now he hopes to promote the structures for scaling expeditions and cultural activities, while promising to unveil plans involving “a lot of good stuff” in the coming months.
Redeveloping the unique structures poses challenges, he said, and costs can be prohibitive. But as the waterfront beckons, Smith believes that developers will show interest. “I think there’s something there,” he said. “All the viable ones are on the water, and as Buffalo gets redirected toward the water, there are possibilities.”
The marina complex now on the auction block was offered for sale in 2009 for $3 million after a fire caused $250,000 damage. It features 66 grain silos that are 80 feet high and visible from Furhrmann Boulevard. It was the site of a diesel fuel spill in 1989, when 220 gallons leaked into the lake after a 60-foot tour boat sank.
At one time, South End Marina housed as many as 130 boats, dealt in marine sales and service, sold gasoline, and offered marine supplies, pier fishing, and bait-and-tackle equipment. It’s also known for hosting a succession of rusty, derelict hulks of ships. Best remembered may be the Lansdowne, a more than 120-year-old Great Lakes barge that once ferried railroad cars and was later a floating restaurant.
It returned to Buffalo in 2005 amid salvage plans, but instead sat unused at its mooring. First, it tied up near Ganson Street, and then at the marina, until it was sold and scrapped under pressure from city officials weary of the eyesore.
Four years ago, the parcel was marketed as “a very prime area for hotels, corporate offices, restaurant, condos and/or marinas in the near future,” similar to how Cunningham is now offering the area. “They don’t know what to ask,” Cunningham said, “and if they don’t know what it’s worth, this is a good way to find out.”
The June 5 auction at 1515 Furhmann is set for 10 a.m.