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Unknown Stories of WNY: An impressive history, a promising future for Black Rock building

80 apartments, brewery, dog park in the works in the building that once housed the world's largest malt house.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A $20 million project in Buffalo's Black Rock neighborhood is moving forward, promising to transform a massive former industrial complex and in the process resurrect history, by creating a new future for a former brewing giant.

If you drive through Black Rock, you've probably seen the building, or maybe even skated in it. It was once the home to Extreme Wheels. But what you may not have known is it is a building with a lot of history, history that developer Fred LoFaso hopes to use as a cornerstone. 

"The building is very unique in that it was built as a machine and the components in the structure itself are very unique. It's not a traditional building with floors and windows and things of that nature, it was meant to operate as a malt house."

The John Kam Malting Company was one of the largest malt producers in the country in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, in fact John Kam was considered a pioneer in the industry. This structure was his masterpiece. It is nearly 125,000 square feet, sitting on about three acres. 

The seven-story building was opened in 1901, Kam occupied the site until 1916. It was used for animal feed production until 1950, and then other industrial purposes until at least 1986, most recently it housed Extreme Wheels, an indoor skate park. 

Now LoFaso sees a bright new future in the midst of all this history. His plans call for 80 apartments and a variety of retail, including one that would resurrect it's past, a brewery. Also in the works, a dog park and dog wash station, and outdoor space, including two green roofs, complete with patio space.

The project has been a slow one for a variety of reasons, including the pandemic and site remediation as you can clearly see by the amount of soil removed from the back side of the building. But LoFaso looks at this project as sort of carrying on the family business from his father, who was an antique dealer. 

"I've learned so much from my father throughout the years as far as restoring antiques and cleaning them. He always said you don't want to shine them and make them look like new, you want to maintain the patina of it and that's what we're trying to do here maintain the original character of the building," LoFaso said. 

And there is plenty of character remaining, remnants of its glory years when it was the largest pneumatic drum malting system in Buffalo, and the "biggest malt house on Earth," turning out 2 million bushels a year. From the steeping floor, to the kiln room, right up to the three levels of louvered drying floors which would allow the barley to drop down and continue the process, a lot of it is still there.

This combination of preserving the past while building a new future is something that comes from LoFaso's heart. 

"It is truly a passion, you need to really have a passion for it. It's not for the faint of heart, I'll say that. So many times you want to walk away, but you do it for the love of it."

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