In Buffalo, there are a number of different districts that we have all come to love, including Larkinville and Canalside. Looking forward, as Buffalo continues to grow, are there more areas within the city that could become distinct destinations? I believe so. This past week I was invited to explore a series of buildings on Chandler Street that has the potential to become… dare I say… Buffalo’s version of the Toronto Distillery District. My tour guide was Lee Patterson, whose family has possession of the site. Lee is in the midst of formulating a plan to convert the turn of the century buildings into an art, festival and design complex. The bones of the compound are strong, and plentiful. There are limitless opportunities at hand, when analyzing the site’s potential.
Upon walking into the complex, there is a giant daylit warehouse to the left (currently occupied by a month to month tenant that is using it for storage). Then there is a massive courtyard surrounded by a series of brick buildings. I immediately had a feeling that was somewhat spiritual and uplifting in nature. Truth be told, I had never seen anything quite like it in Buffalo. Lee, who is a design tenant and partner in the property (LEEP Outdoor Advertising), told me that there was 110,000 square feet of interior building space to work with. In his mind, he sees a literal stable of artists and artisans working inside one of the buildings, each with his or her own space to create and sell.
Another building could become a residential component. And yet another would be dedicated for designers – Lee is currently set up in one offices, and other designers are expressing interest in coming onboard. With each building dedicated to different uses, this could become a spectacular creative destination in no time. Whether Lee’s vision evolves in a grassroots manner or is aided by myriad community partnerships is yet to be determined.
While most of the buildings are in great shape, one of the structures that Lee showed me is too far gone. “I want to keep the exterior walls intact,” Lee told me [pointing]. “I envision a place where artists and musicians can gather, in a protected courtyard.” The more I thought of this idea, the more I thought about a recent missed opportunity, when The City demolished St. Mary’s on the Hill instead of shoring up the walls of the church and turning it into a community gathering space. Talking to Lee, I could see exactly where he was going with the concept. I couldn’t help but get excited about the possibilities. I could imagine people living, creating, and socializing in an a previously “undiscovered” part of the city that was still in close proximity to Wegman’s, Elmwood (Rocco Tremini developments), and Black Rock. Chandler Street also has a number of other cool businesses to add to the overall creative vision of the district, including Sold716, Horsefeathers and CooCooU.
Now take Lee’s train of thought, and add a café or a restaurant. Or designate a place in one of the courtyards for a food truck to pull in. Have artists and artisans populate the courtyard with their works (for sale or for aesthetic purposes). Add some raised garden beds, where some farm to table produce would be grown, a grassroots microbrewery, some sculptures, LED lighting, and garden pathways (there is already an urban forest on the premises), and the development (currently referred to as The Chandler), would draw people in from all over the country. If anyone has ever been to The Foundry in Long Island City, then there is a great reference point for what sort of place this could become (weddings, dinner parties, functions, etc.)
As for the history of the property, it was originally the Linde building, built in 1901. The business was a global supplier for industrial gasses*. The complex acted as storage/distribution and corporate headquarters until the early 50’s. The giant chimney still remains, giving the grounds an iconic landmark like no other. For the most part, the structures were built like a brick @#$%house.
In coming days/weeks, Lee will be clearing out more of the debris that is currently found strewn about the grounds. Lee’s girlfriend, artist Sarah Caputi (partnering with ELAB), will be embarking upon a massive mural project on the exterior of one of the buildings. Right now there is a raw integrity to these buildings that sets them apart from the rest. Instead of drywalling the walls and removing the historic details, Lee wants to keep the raw integrity of the building “as is”, which is remarkable. The future of The Chandler will see much of this raw nature preserved (as much as possible), to showcase the industrial heritage of the street.
At this point, Lee and his group have not brought onboard any developer partners, but he says that that is a likely possibility. A partner would allow the complex to move along at a quicker pace, and would also bring in key development ingredients. Then, it’s imperative to get The City to spruce up the street, with quality infrastructure improvements. There is plenty of room for parking cars, and there is also a ton of land to build upon. Chandler Street has incredible potential to become a stand alone destination, where visitors would bike or park, and then walk around to various neighboring design buildings.
Every district needs a cornerstone attraction. The Chandler is positioned to be just that. I can see this place becoming a crucial component to this city’s growth on years to come. In the meantime, we will be following Lee’s formative efforts as they unfold.
The Chandler | 155 Chandler Street | Buffalo NY
*Buffalo’s Chandler Street plant was used by Linde (Union Carbide) to experiment on and perfect the filters used in the gaseous diffusion process for the separation of uranium isotopes. Once perfected, this process was scaled up for the massive gaseous diffusion “K-25” plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (closed). This technology is now outmoded but I believe newer generation plants in Portsmouth, Ohio and Paducah, Kentucky are still in operation. – BRO reader CS