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Shea’s Seneca Dedication

When a once vibrant building is restored, it confirms what we know about our town. A good strategy for bringing back neighborhoods is reusing our existing structures, the ones that made us great in the past. It is a labor of love to do so; it requires vision, passion and courage. It’s time to celebrate another historic renovation. Schneider Development Services has reopened Shea’s Seneca, a South Buffalo landmark!

Michael Shea built the 2178 Seneca Street movie house in 1929 in the heart of South Buffalo. For South Buffalonians who saw movies there in their youth, it is a treasure trove of memories. Trish Scarcello recalls when her babysitter took her to a movie there and more than the film itself, she remembers the theater’s grandeur, including the vaulted gilded ceiling. Other attendees remembered concerts in the Sky Room, including national acts like the Ramones. In 1970, the theater was demolished and before long tenants including Woolworths, the Sky Room and a bowling alley left. Shea’s Seneca and Seneca Street overall entered a period of decline and neglect.

Bands that played at the theater are commemorated with banners that line the residential hallways

In 2015, the boarded-up building caught the eye of Schneider Development Services. Since a complete rehabilitation of the building, there is new life in the building and a spirit of revitalization on Seneca Street. Five commercial tenants now occupy the first floor of the building: Public Espresso, Shea’s Seneca Banquets and Catering, April Spencer Floral Design, Cantina 62, and Bottle Rocket Beer Reserve. There are also 23 high-end market rate apartments called the Skyroom Lofts. Prices range from $995 to $2100 a month. Eleven of the apartments are already leased.

Jake Schneider, president of Schneider Development Services, recounted the challenges of restoring the 48,000 square foot building and the goal that kept him motivated. “We had an ambitious vision for this building and what it could do for Seneca Street. From the very beginning, the community response to that vision has been extraordinary. It’s been incredibly rewarding to revive this historic building that has meant so much to Seneca Street and South Buffalo.”

In addition to community enthusiasm, Schneider’s investment was met with the support of City Hall. The $10 million project attracted the attention of politicians, many with South Buffalo roots, who saw the opportunity to build on the private investment and revitalize Seneca Street, a major corridor connecting South Buffalo and downtown. Plans for street improvements are underway. The energy is upbeat and infectious.

Politicians commented on the reopened building. “Today is a day for the believers,” said Representative Brian Higgins in a statement. State Senator Tim Kennedy was there for the ribbon-cutting and was effusive. According to Kennedy “For decades. South Buffalo saw one of its greatest architectural treasures languish, waiting for the right person with the necessary vision to come along…It’s another example of the success of the state and federal historic tax credit program, and shines a spotlight on another resurgent area of the City of Buffalo”.

A model apartment

County Executive Mark Poloncarz sent comments ahead and deputy Maria Whyte attended the event. He noted “South Buffalo’s rich history is being reborn in the Shea’s Seneca building”. South District Councilmember Christopher Scanlon was present to celebrate in his words, “the true rebirth of Seneca Street.” He told how Shea’s Seneca Theater was called the “Seneca Show” by locals and children flocked there for the matinees and young adults to the concerts in the evening. It’s where, according to Scanlon, “memories of a lifetime were made”.

Evans Bank invested in the project and President Dave Nasca sent his congratulations to Schneider Development. Mayor Brown recognized the contribution to the community. “This beautifully executed reuse not only brings an iconic structure back to life, it also adds vibrancy to the neighborhood through its mix of apartments, event and retails space,” Mayor Byron W. Brown said.

If you like to witness the resurgence of a community, visit Shea’s Seneca Street. You can tour an apartment, schedule an event in the banquet room, buy flowers at April Spencer Floral Design, or have something to eat in Cantina 62, a coffee in Public Espresso, or a beer in Bottle Rocket Beer Reserve. There is an undeniably positive energy in the air and progress has only just begun.

Written by Judith Frizlen

Judith Frizlen

Judith Frizlen is the founder of the Rose Garden Early Childhood Center and author of Words for Parents, Words for Teachers and Caregivers and Unpacking Guilt, a Mother's Journey to Freedom. Books and blogposts are on her website at judithfrizlen.com. She is a fan of early childhood, urban architecture and the revitalization of Buffalo.

View All Articles by Judith Frizlen
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