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Buffalo transforming its Rust Belt image

Lisa Elia
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The Buffalo Main Lighthouse at the mouth of the Buffalo River and Erie Canal, directly across from the Erie Basin Marina.

Buffalo, New York, has long had a down-on-its-luck image, but in the past 10 years, it has sprung back to life.

From its hip restaurants to its vibrant waterfront and leafy neighborhoods, to its long-vacant riverside grain silos and factories now brimming with breweries and other businesses, Buffalo has a new spice — and it’s not just from its world-famous chicken wings.

Starting in the mid-1800s, Buffalo’s steel mills, grain silos and docks hummed with commerce and experienced unprecedented growth. Today, General Mills still uses a few of the silos, resulting in the city smelling like Cheerios or Lucky Charms on some days.

At the turn of the 20th century, it was the eighth-largest city in the country, with more than 353,000 people. Soon Buffalo became a hub of innovation, home to the country’s first skyscraper and a magnet for thinkers who created the grain elevator, air conditioning and the paid coffee break.

A good place to see the city is above it — from the free observation deck at the 32-story Art Deco City Hall, built in 1931, where you can spot the mist of Niagara Falls.

Visitors also can see some of the city’s architectural marvels from atop city hall, including Louis Sullivan’s 13-story Guaranty Building, built in 1895, a classic of an early skyscraper design, and the neoclassical Liberty Building, built in 1925, topped with two miniature Statues of Liberty — one facing east and one to the west — representing Buffalo’s strategic point as a gateway. Also worth a visit is the 1926 Shea’s Buffalo Theatre, an old-time movie palace whose interior was designed by Louis Tiffany Co. (only a handful of such designs remain). It resembles a European opera house and is used today for touring Broadway shows.

Elmwood Village is a great place to walk and shop at locally owned galleries, bookstores and restaurants, and admire the Victorian homes and gardens.

Along the waterfront is Canalside, which features restaurants, an ice rink and places to walk and ride bikes along the boardwalk. It’s also home to the Explore & More Children’s Museum and the Buffalo and Erie Naval and Military Park, which features a decommissioned cruiser, destroyer and submarine.

RiverWorks is a recreational and adventure complex along the Buffalo River where you can kayak among the grain silos, check out roller derby or scale a grain silo. If you’re a thrill-seeker, you can zipline between the silos over a beer garden into the mouth of a shark mural. Some silos are painted to look like Labatt Blue beer cans, earning them the nickname, “The Six Pack.”

The 1905 Frank Lloyd Wright Martin House in the Parkside neighborhood has undergone a $50 million renovation and features many of its original art-glass windows, some of which are decorated with Wright’s distinctive geometric “Tree of Life” pattern. For an interesting piece of history, check out the Michigan Street Baptist Church, built in 1845, which was a stop for runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. Check the website for tour info: michiganstreetbaptistchurch.org.

For more information, go to visitbuffaloniagara.com or explorebuffalo.org.