Great wall of grain: Silo City Rocks lays out plans - PHOTOS, VIDEO
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • March 20, 2013 @ 3:10pm
The idea dawned on Jason Schwinger as he paddled through “elevator alley” on a kayak. The owner of BFLO Harbor Kayak and local marketing manager gazed at Buffalo’s grain elevators as he maneuvered down the Buffalo River, and his thought process was simple:
“The grain elevators are here, so let’s find something to do with them.”
Coincidentally, Schwinger and business partners Kevin Cullen and Andrew Minier arrived at the idea concurrently—Cullen noted that he always envisioned the grain elevators as “man-made cliffs”—and the three agreed to pursue a plan to bring rock climbing to Canalside—inside one of the city’s century-old grain elevators.
Buffalo River property owner Rick Smith excitedly approved the trio’s idea, and the plan is already in motion.
The current goal is to open a small section of Silo City Rocks by Memorial Day—a top-rope room, a bouldering room and the outside climbs—and then to have the whole facility (6,000-sq.-feet) functional by summer’s end.
“In a lot of places, turning a grain elevator into a climbing gym might seem pretty wild,” Schwinger explained as he leaned up against a wall of the grain elevator last week. “Buffalo is crazy enough where an idea like that could work. [This city] is really a blank slate of opportunity.”
Work is already in progress to “clean, contain and build” inside the grain elevators—which, as you can see from the photos, are pretty dilapidated—but Silo City Rocks is running an indiegogo fundraising campaign for the next 25 days to put another $23,000 into the project. Currently, the entrepreneurs have crowd-sourced over $7,000.
The climbing center will encompass roughly the southernmost third of the grain elevator off of Childs Street (see map to the right). Three rooms will be dedicated to bouldering, while several others will evolve into 120-foot-tall “top rope” climbing rooms (with various difficulty), a merchandise store, posts for BFLO Harbor Kayak and Campus WheelWorks, a community event room and a small yoga studio.
Silo City Rocks will be open year-round, too, as Schwinger plans to create an ice-climbing wall on the northern face because it’s best protected from the wind. The southern side of the elevator, however, reaches 190-feet into the sky—which, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, would be the tallest free-standing climbing wall in the world. See the video below to get an idea how high 190 feet is.
Bouldering—which emphasizes sheer agility, strength and navigating obstacles rather than climbing straight up—will fit snugly in the room pictured below, as the slant of the walls make this silo a natural challenge.
Schwinger also discussed plans to offer brief repelling instruction from a shorter ledge—see photos—before encouraging the move to a much greater height (120-ft.) from the southeast side of the grain elevator.
The community center will accommodate newcomers and youngsters, and also serves as a wider spot to squeeze in larger groups. The yoga room, Schwinger explains, will have a raised floor with radiant heat for a more comfortable atmosphere.
Currently, the Niagara Climbing Center in North Tonawanda is one of the few indoor facilities in the area, but its peak height is 20-foot top-rope walls, which pale in comparison to Silo City Rocks’ grand plans.
Schwinger notes that the surprisingly large group of hardcore climbers enjoys traveling throughout the more remote areas of the southern tier, across the country and the globe to seek out the most popular climbing destinations. While climbing is still a niche sport, its participants form a surprisingly tight-knit, obsessive community with a craving for adventure.
Silo City Rocks represents an outside-the-box start-up with the goal to not only bring rock climbing to the heart of Buffalo, but to make use of the looming unused grain elevators that dominate a section of Buffalo’s skyline.