Cultural icon or corporate image - Labatt logo on grain silos a questionable choice

Buffalo loves its beer, but not everyone is thrilled by its new position in the city skyline

With breweries, bars, wine trails and tailgates, Buffalo is a city with plenty of options for alcoholic indulgence (and considering the recent performances by the Bills and the Sabres, there’s no shortage of reasons to knock back a few beers).

Now, with decommissioned grain silos redecorated to look like a giant six pack of Labatt Blue, Buffalo’s relationship with beer has ascended to a whole new level.

The bright blue color is certainly an improvement over the previous shades of dirty, industrial grey and the new look will undoubtedly attract the public’s attention, generating greater awareness for the renovations going on in the area.

The silos’ redesigned exterior brings new character to an unattractive building and transforms what was once industrial into a humorous and iconic tribute to Buffalo’s love of beer.

But even though this is a clever use of the silos design, and a relevant image for the city, this iconic image is still undeniably commercial.

Turning a 100-foot tall landmark into what is essentially a three-dimensional billboard reeks of commodification and invasive corporate involvement. Advertising is aggressive enough already, and incorporating a brand name into the Buffalo skyline is even more blatant than pop-up ads and halftime sponsorships.

Turning the silos into ad space may not be ideal, but capitalizing on the gigantic blank canvas is a wise move, and considering the silos’ setting, the Labatt logo is especially relevant.

The silos are part of the ongoing Riverworks project, which will renovate the Ganson Street Site along the Buffalo River and feature two ice rinks, concert venues, restaurants, bars and a hotel. The area has already hosted the Labatt Pond Hockey tournament, an event organized by Buffalo entrepreneur Earl Ketry.

Ketry’s business relationship with Labatt, whose national headquarters are in Buffalo, certainly explains why their logo is now looming over the Buffalo River – as owner of the Pearl Street Grill and the Pan Am Brewery, Ketry is Labatt’s largest restaurant client in the country, according to Buffalo Rising magazine.

Riverworks is turning the silos into an in-house brewery, so the choice of decoration is certainly relevant. And Labatt, though not a local brewery, is at least located in Buffalo. Considering that Buffalo’s affection for beer and sports is well known, it’s not completely out of line to say that this new décor reflects an important part of the city’s culture.

But there’s a lot more to Buffalo than its beer.

Fortunately, there are a lot more silos left along the Buffalo River – they’re just as public, just as eye-catching and they don’t all have to be six-packs.

Though this set of silos now functions as advertisements, other abandoned buildings could serve as a blank canvas for more artistic functions, featuring imagery that is truly personal to Buffalo (because let’s be honest, Buffalo isn’t the only city that consumes copious amounts of alcohol) and that is created by the people of Buffalo, not its corporations.