One of Buffalo’s oldest industries is objecting to plans for a multimillion-dollar entertainment destination at an inactive grain elevator on the waterfront.
Buffalo RiverWorks, an ambitious project that would bring a year-round entertainment complex with two ice rinks, a beer garden, a brewery, an outdoor public beach area, boat docks and a performing arts space to an eight-acre site at 333 Ganson St., was delayed for at least two weeks following the objections Tuesday from grain milling companies that operate on the Buffalo River.
“Industrial operations next to a busy entertainment venue will inevitably lead to frustration by all, traffic delays, confusion and more,” said David Tincher, general manager of the General Mills plant. “We are very concerned about public safety and our own employee safety that could be jeopardized with increased congestion along the Ganson and Michigan Street intersection.”
Upon learning about the project, the company immediately brought its concerns to developers and local economic development officials, Tincher said.
“Without solutions to the mixing of industrial and commercial traffic on Ganson Street, we believe this will be very detrimental to our operations and have a negative impact on the competitiveness of the Buffalo plant,” he said.
The project appears to put to the test the idea that the waterfront can be a recreational destination and yet still remain a place for industry.
Tincher was followed by a representative from ADM’s milling facility, also on Ganson Street, and two representatives of unionized workers at the plants, who voiced their concerns about impacts to the businesses, and pedestrian and employee safety.
“I’m looking at 450 jobs,” said Robert Roberts, who represents Local 1286, which includes workers at General Mills and ADM. He said the combined payroll of $55 million at those employers should be taken into consideration.
The Buffalo RiverWorks site, home to the inactive Wheeler-GLF grain elevator, has room for 400 parking spaces, and developer Doug Swift said large events will require parking around First Niagara Center.
Planning Board members requested details on impact to traffic in the area, which is part of an ongoing study. The board also asked that plans for the ice rinks be separated from the rest of the project, because the completion of the rinks is more urgent, and less complex, than the rest of the plan.
Two outdoor rinks would be used by the Labatt Blue Buffalo Pond Hockey Tournament and would need to be ready by Feb. 1.
Swift said that he was not surprised the project was not approved by the board and that he was aware of objections from General Mills and ADM.
“We think that this type of development along the river corridor is inevitable, and whether we’re doing it, or somebody else, the pressure for this kind of development is extreme right now, and there’s a lot of proposed projects,” he said. “I think the planning process needs to play out.”
The first phase of RiverWorks is expected to cost $15 million and would be home to curling, lacrosse and roller hockey. Longer-term plans include a hotel, but that is five years away, Swift said.
In a separate public hearing before the Common Council’s Legislation Committee, no objections to the project were raised, and Council Members David A. Franczyk and Darius G. Pridgen both spoke in favor of it.
Swift’s partners in the project are Earl Ketry, owner of Pearl Street Grill & Brewery, and Jon Williams of Ontario Specialty Contracting.
Neighborhood opposition to several other major projects, both commercial and residential, was aired during a 4½-hour Planning Board meeting Tuesday.
•The Grove at Buffalo, a gated, privately owned student housing complex on the site of a former pharmaceutical manufacturer at Forest and West avenues, was approved with the condition that another neighborhood meeting be held.
North Carolina developer Campus Crest operates student housing around the country and will employ on-site management and security, Alex Eyssen,vice president of development, told the board in response to neighborhood concerns that the complex would be noisy or disturb the peace.
Plans call for 584 students to live in buildings scattered across 11 acres, to be open by fall 2015.
Other major projects that did not get board approval:
•Deaconess Heights, a low- to moderate-income rental housing project on the site of the former Deaconess Hospital at 563 Riley St., was delayed for another two weeks to allow the developer, Community Action Organization, to continue to meet with neighbors concerned about the project.
“We’re not interested in this area becoming the center of rental housing on the East Side,” said neighbor Valencia Sease.
CAO Executive Director L. Nathan Hare said demand is great for that type of housing. The project includes a community center and 75 units spread across 23 buildings. Some units would be geared toward older residents or people with impaired mobility.
• Also delayed for two weeks was Evergreen Health Services, which is planning to build rental housing for people who were homeless on Genesee Street near the Fruit Belt.
Responding to concerns from neighbors and Pastor Dwayne Jones of nearby Mt. Aaron Missionary Baptist Church, the board told project planners to hold another neighborhood meeting.