Buffalo's grain elevators as a national park? The idea is being raised

May 15, 2017

An idea is being pitched to preserve relics from Buffalo's history and encourage economic growth in the surrounding neighborhood by designating waterfront grain elevators as a national park.

A local architect is pitching the idea of a national park status. Adam Sokol, principal for the firm ASAP, which has offices in Buffalo and Los Angeles, credits another local businessman's idea to create Silo City as an attraction. Sokol's proposal seeks to bring it to the next level.

A rendering of a proposed national park on the site of some of Buffalo's vintage grain elevators.
Credit courest Adam Sokol Architecture Practice (ASAP) PLLC

"I think if you look at what Rick Smith has done with Silo City, it's incredible. It's fantastic," said Sokol. "He really has put the vision together. I think it just goes beyond, really, what the private sector is able and expected to accomplish."

Sokol has drafted a rendering of a national park. at what is known as Elevator Alley. The park would be accessible via Ohio Street. Direct work on the silos would be limited, with the addition of a visitors center and a few amenities but no major overhaul of the vintage structures.

"I think at a minimum, you upgrade them to meet building code," Sokol said. "You can put in sprinklers, stairways, railings, things of that sort, just so that people can walk through them safely and experience them and interpret them. 

"Once you've got a national park, you set the stage for bringing in so many people for commercial development in the periphery."

The grain elevators, decades ago, helped grow Buffalo to one of the largest cities in the nation, and the richest per capita. The advent of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Welland Canal lessened the importance of Buffalo as a key Great Lakes port. While a national park would give visitors an opportunity to see relics of Buffalo's former economy, it would also attract niche tourism audiences including architecture enthusiasts.

"It turns out they're very unique structures. There's only a handful of cities in the world that has anything like this," Sokol said. "I don't think any of them have quite the concentration that Buffalo has, or the history of developing them as a technology."

Turning former industrial sites into national parks has been done elsewhere, Sokol added. He noted that former factories in Lowell, Massachusetts are now national parks, designated as such to commemorate some of the nation's oldest manufacturing centers.