Buffalo’s Grain Elevators Reimagined

If only past generations of Buffalonians could have witnessed the spectacle on the city’s waterfront Wednesday night: the debut of a nightly light show on one of the city’s grain elevators.silos

A total of 550 light fixtures illuminated an area the length of four football fields on the Connecting Terminal, the grain elevator directly across the Buffalo River from Canalside, Buffalo’s revitalized waterfront district. The colors shifted through a seasonal rotation, from the snowflakes of winter against a blue back drop to the flowers of spring, sunshine of summer and foliage of fall. A crowd of nearly 8,000 gathered at Canalside on a warm November night “Oohed” and “aahed” as the blue, green, red and orange colors illuminated the silo walls.

The illumination of the Connecting Terminal, which will take place nightly from dusk to 11 p.m. and is viewable from the Canalside boardwalk, is part of a larger re-imagining of Buffalo’s grain elevators, and of the city itself. Buffalo has one of the largest collection of grain elevators in the world, remnants of the city’s industrial heyday when freighters filled the Buffalo River with grain shipped in from the Midwest on its way to East Coast cities via the Erie Canal. Scores of grain scoopers worked in the shadow of the elevators to store grain in the silos.

But the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 brought an end to much of that grain industry here. A number of the silos sat empty for decades amid calls by locals for their demolition. It was hard for many to envision any future for these structures a decade or two ago.

No longer.

Several new projects have breathed new life into these silos in recent years. At RiverWorks, one elevator will house a brewery in its interior and a climbing wall on its exterior, with a beer garden on tap for next year in the adjacent silo ruins. Further down the river at Silo City, several grain elevators have become the backdrop for craft beer festivals, theater and other events from spring through fall. The reinvention and re-imagining of Buffalo’s silos has even gained the attention of the Associated Press and British architecture critic Oliver Wainwright.

Now the nightly light show adds to that momentum. As I turned to leave, I noticed LECOM HarborCenter, the $200 million hockey, hotel, dining and shopping complex that opened last year. I saw the 33,000 square foot Ice @ Canalside, which will soon be underway for its second year. I looked up at the Courtyard by Marriott, Canalside’s first hotel that opened 18 months ago. And I couldn’t help but be amazed at how much Buffalo’s waterfront has transformed in such a short period of time.

Those earlier generations of Buffalonians who saw the city’s industrial rise, and then its decline, sure would have been swelling with pride on Wednesday night to witness its ongoing rebirth. We’re the lucky ones who get to experience it.