Today I was presented with an opportunity to tour the RiverWorks project with developer Doug Swift, whose excitement for the project is both exhilarating and contagious.
To start, two large entry posts are being designed at the gateway to the compound, using giant industrial found objects such as a massive steel scale that once weighed freight rail cars on the site.
Upon entering the complete it is apparent that the roof infill over the atrium that connects the low bay and the high bay buildings is nearly complete.
To the right of the RiverWorks arena, venue and restaurant hub is “The Bunker”, which has been cleaned up and stripped of the “widow makers” that once hung from the structure. Eventually this apocalyptic-looking tower will boast awnings, lighting, and a second floor indoor/outdoor stage that will overlook “Stonehenge” and “Medusa’s Front Porch”.
Next to The Bunker is “Medusa’s Front Porch”. This is an outdoor event center that will be semi-enclosed, with views onto the concert venue (in The Bunker). This area will be used for wedding events, parties, concerts, etc… a party zone that will be landscaped with grasses, ivy and flowers, and then lit up. This is where the beer will be flowing, the partiers will be hanging around in the industrial wreckage, with views onto the elevated bands playing in The Bunker.
Train tracks have been left at the main entranceway to the complex, and Doug tells me that he is looking for some sort of operating railway carts that would add interest to the grounds.
From there we encounter “Stonehenge” or “Beerhenge”, a catacomb beer garden that lies under the watchful eye of the giant Labatt silo six-pack. Inside Stonehenge partiers will be able to reserve one of the “honeycomb” spaces (there are many), where they will be served fresh beer and drinks crafted a mere few feet away – fire pits included.
Just past Stonehenge is the looming Labatt six-pack. Guests will be able to walk right up to the silos and order craft beer and spirits brewed and distilled on the second floor of the structure. They will also be able to order light food service. To me this is one of the coolest parts of the facility. The industrial nature of this area will be truly unique, especially when bistro tables and chairs are scattered about.
In order to install the brewery and distillery on the second floor of the silo, workers had to cut through three feet of concrete, a feat that Doug said was beyond anything that they anticipated. Additional space in the silo structure will be used for storing malt (yes, a part of the silo is dedicated for its original purpose). Another section of the silo will be utilized as a cooler area (natural insulation) where the beer vats will be stored. Beer lines will then pump the beer directly to myriad bars within the RiverWorks complex.
Walking into the RiverWorks Complex, one encounters a food service area to the left, and wrap around bars on the right (looking out over the Buffalo River). A staircase leads guests upstairs where they are met with banquet rooms with bars that mirror the first floor.
Then there is a VIP section with killer sight lines onto the concert venue below (capacity 6000, not including patios), as well as the Queen City Roller Derby flat track (currently under construction). To say that this project is outrageous is an understatement.
Old Larkin pull carts are being retrofitted to function as tables, which will add some historic interest to the project. The music venue will also accommodate indoor sporting events such as kickboxing. Concrete bar tops are currently being poured on site.
Upper level decks will lead out over the boardwalk, along the river side of the building, and over to the second floor of the silo six-pack, where visitors will be invited to tour the brewery and the distillery. The six-pack will be up-lit in January, when the entire complex is slated to open to the public.
A 24′ giant industrial fan will hang from the ceiling over the roller derby track – something that Doug says will be a major spectacle in itself. The fan will hang from a complex sawtooth roof, with a number of complexly installed angled and pitched girders (for distinctive appeal). An 18′ flatscreen will be installed that will broadcast a number of sporting events taking place throughout the complex.
A main stage sits at the far end of the room, and behind that the mechanics and the inner workings of the building are located, including the cooling system for the outside rinks. and a 10,000 square foot catering kitchen. Once again, this project is bigger than life, with surprises around every corner.
Did I mention that there’s going to be a pro shop servicing hockey players, roller derby players, and others who are participating in sporting events at the complex. RiverWorks has also purchased rental skates for all age brackets.
The two outdoor ice rinks now boast a second level directly in-between. It’s sprawling patio that allows onlookers to view the games in comfort, and from various angles. Below are indoor/outdoor bars (in the summer time), and more patios and walkways leading hither and fro amongst the rinks. One rink is regulation, and the other is slightly smaller.
Rinks will be used for league pond hockey (more than just the Labatt tournament), curling (five lanes on the smaller surface)… the surfaces can accommodate six pond hockey games and traditional hockey games. The rinks can also accommodate outdoor roller derby for national events, soccer, box lacrosse, roller hockey, etc. There’s even a Zamboni. “I can’t believe that I own a Zamboni,” said Doug.
Much of the RiverWorks site has been environmentally thought through, especially when it comes to rain water retention. The rain from the roofs will be directed directly into the Buffalo River. The rain from the parking lot will travel through bio retention cells and then passed along into the river. Doug’s team worked with Riverkeeper, the Sewer Authority, the DEC, and Dave Majewski to come up with the best storm water retention, disbursement plans. Much of the lighting in the facility is LED. Down the road there is a plan to turn one of the roofs into a green roof (accessible by elevator), where people will be able to hang out and get 360′ views of everything going on.
On top of everything else, Doug told me about a number of plans that I am not even at liberty to divulge (yet). There are a bunch of exciting features that are coming… stay tuned. In the meantime, we are looking at an absolutely stunning project that will change the way that we look at the Buffalo River, and the waterfront for that matter.
Again, we have a project that will draw thousands to the waterfront year round, not just in the warm months. I can’t wait to see this place up and operational, with roller derby and hockey being played at the same time. It’s kind of surreal if you think about it.