After Earl Ketry, co-founder of Buffalo RiverWorks, announced that he was going to be bringing a 100 foot ferris wheel to his ever-evolving waterfront recreational venue, I figured that I would sit down with him to discuss the latest acquisition.
These days, Ketry has a couple of new projects in mind – he wants to make the site more family friendly, and he is planning ways to enhance connectivity between RiverWorks, the Outer Harbor, and destinations along the Buffalo River, such as Canalside. With Canalside constructing a carousel, and Explore and More Children’s Museum now open, the timing couldn’t be better to create a sweeping family-friendly waterfront destination that will capture the imaginations of locals, as well as tourists. Ketry believes that if the right puzzle pieces are put in place, our waterfront can siphon off tourists who are planning trips to Niagara Falls. But in order to do that, “it’s got to be sensational.” That’s why Ketry is in a “no holds barred” mode at the moment. Actually, he’s always in that mode.
At first, Ketry thought that he might find a local ferris wheel, at the former Fantasy Island amusement park (where he bought some of the other rides). Unfortunately, that particular ride required so much maintenance that it was actually cheaper to have a new one fashioned. Ketry tracked down a world class ferris wheel maker in Italy, which allowed him to have his ride custom made. Once operational in the spring of 2021, the ferris wheel will be a year round attraction. Ketry explained that the passenger cars – or cabins – will have glass shields that will fully close when the weather turns cold. Although they will not be heated, people will be protected by the winds, which we know can get pretty blustery when the snow flies.
In tandem with the ferris wheel, Ketry is building out an indoor/outdoor kids’ park, complete with at least seven amusement park rides, including a train on a figure eight track. There will also be a kids’ adventure course inside one of the abandoned grain elevator called “The Bunker.” A concessions area will be set up under the double-decker bus that was recently set atop the Stonehenge Beer Garden. Ketry is in “sponsorship mode”, which is how he ends up paying for a lot of the attractions. “Imagine an industrial Times Square,” said Ketry. “Or Coney Island. Families will be able to spend an afternoon, riding the rides, eating popcorn and cotton candy, and enjoying the industrial nature of the site – that’s what makes it so different. We’re going in all guns a blazin‘.”
When I asked Ketry about the connectivity component, he said that he has a John Deer tractor and hay wagon, and a bus, that will take people back and forth from RiverWorks to Canalside. He also hinted about a couple of very interesting projects in the pipeline – game changers – that will be permanent fixtures to the Buffalo River and the Ship Canal, both of which will make it easier for people to get from place to place.
“It’s all about the big picture scale,” Ketry reminded me. “We’re going to market the hell out it. The ferris wheel will be a giant exclamation point – it even comes with a light show that is being custom made in Germany. Can you picture it? At the edge of the river… the views? We’re always looking for the next cool, weird idea. Just think of it – we’re already averaging 1.2 million visitors a year. They come for all sorts of reasons, from a beer tasting at the top of the Labatt Blue Six Pack (The Six Pack Tour is in the observation deck) to the hockey in the wintertime. We’re going to install a giant digital billboard on the ferris wheel – we’re going to become an even greater tourist draw because it’s going to be visually exciting, and very entertaining.”
Before wrapping up our conversation, Ketry began to put different pieces of paper in front of me, showing how many untapped opportunities exist on the site. “The big thing now is… the most important thing is… securing the buildings that have suffered from years of demolition by neglect. We just put a brand new roof on top of the GLF silo to a tune of $300K, and that’s just part of what we’re doing to save the building for future use. We could just go and build new buildings and save a ton of money, but we love the history of the site, and we think others do to. It’s part of the tourism draw. The views from the top of the 36 pack, inside The Binhouse… you’ve never seen anything else like it. That’s another piece of the puzzle… the future of the site, and the waterfront.”