The last time that I paid a visit to the Schoellkopf Icehouse and Powerhouse buildings, they were a wreck. Mind you, this was a number of years ago, and at the time it looked as if the structures were doomed. At that point, the weather elements had gotten the best of the structures. In order to save them, millions of dollars would have to be invested… and who was going to do that, especially when it was hard to imagine a reuse scenario that would justify the extreme costs.
Fast forward to today, and we are looking at the tail end of a $15 million development project that boasts one of the most dramatic venues in all of WNY.
Last Friday, I met up with Jocelyn Merlo, Co-Owner of HEAL BFLO, who is handling many of the event and pop-up bookings at what is now being called The Powerhouse (a project by Ontario Specialty Contracting’s South Buffalo Development LLC – OSC) – located at Buffalo Color Park (part of the 22-acre Schoellkopf Aniline & Chemical Co. property).
“I initially toured the building in June,” said Mahina, who has been working in the hospitality business for 15 years. “There were no windows at the time, and it was in the middle of the pandemic. At the time, I don’t think that many people knew what to expect, but all I could see was the huge potential – there’s nothing else like this in the region, and I believe it’s exactly what we’ve been needing – a venue of this size and magnitude that can accommodate 1000 people seated, and 3000 people standing. And that’s just in the main part of the venue. There’s also the front lawn, which can be ‘tented,’ the multiple patios, and additional spaces (coming soon) on the rooftop. Can you imagine the weddings that can take place here? Or the international trade shows? It’s so dramatic, all year round, and in any type of weather. When it’s snowing outside, it’s so beautiful!”
Mahina is right. The potential is limitless. The uses are endless. Already Mahina’s team is testing out events in order to prepare for the soft opening on June 1. At that time, the public will be invited to attend a slew of engagements, including indoor/outdoor food truck rodeos, yoga and other fitness classes (such as HEAL BFLO Bar League), and a weekly Sunday flea market called The BFLO Flea Market. Already, 120 vendors have reached out to be part of the Flea Market, which will have a number of other “market elements” infused into the event series.
The final development phase of The Powerhouse will wrap up in August, upon which time a Grand Opening will be held. Until that time, work to “tidy up” the building and the grounds will be underway.
Sound dampening measures, including carpeting (also for comfort), will be introduced. Already, there are tinted and soundproof windows in place that eliminate almost all noises from outside of the facility, such as passing trains. “Look! There’s one coming!” Mahina announced, as a train began to roll past. “I love it. It’s another element of the site that is so much fun. It’s the reason that the development team left some of the graffiti intact, to preserve the urban character and make it different than more traditional venues. We’re already having so much for here. We had a DJ on top of one of the bathrooms the other day, for an event. We’re also reaching out to fitness professionals from around the area, who want to book The Powerhouse for month-to-month leases – there’s so much space, which is what people are looking for during the pandemic. We’re presently working on contracts for caterers too.”
Once the site is operational, it’s going to be one of the most sought out venues for a number of reasons, including the extraordinary size and flexibility. With rooftop bar capabilities, multiple outdoor patios (up top and ground floor), parking for 192 cars, an attractive porte-cochère at the entrance (coming soon), and ability to scale up or down by opening up and closing off the different halls, planning a wedding will be a tactical breeze. Not to mention two “guest rooms” upstairs for brides and grooms to prepare for the big day, along with a smaller more intimate venue space. There’s even an industrial 18 foot galvanized garage door, to roll trucks in and out, including food trucks.
Mahina told me that her team is working with Buffalo Transportation to get people to and from the hotels in Downtown Buffalo, which is not that far away (take Elk Street or South Park). Route 190 is also readily accessible.
As for the Local Color site itself, we recently reported that Medaille College was moving forward with its next expansion of collegiate sports facilities. That means that each of the four directional grounds will be quite different in visual appearance – from stretches of operational train tracks, to sports fields, to a dedicated front lawn.
Personally, I think that the interior of The Powerhouse would be the perfect place for winter power-walking. Can you imagine a coffee bar set up, with some music, while walking around this dramatic structure as a fitness routine? Forget mall-walking – with The Powerhouse, anything can be done in style.
It’s incredible to see the magnitude of this project unfolding in front of our eyes. The Powerhouse will become an anchor destination in South Buffalo, that will spark the imaginations of anyone who pays a visit. It will be interesting to see what transpires as the venue comes to life.
“Our event minds are always working,” said Mahina.
That, I have no doubt.
See you at The BFLO Flea Market!
The Powerhouse | 140 Lee Street | Buffalo NY