Architect-turned-developer Jake Schneider is expanding his holdings in South Buffalo, adding the historic Liberty Bank building on Seneca Street with plans to bring a brewery, distillery or restaurant to the former branch site.
Schneider Development paid $150,000 to buy the 3,800-square-foot structure at 2221 Seneca St. from Bank of America Corp. The one-story building, originally designed by architect Harold Jewett Cook and built in 1921, served as one of three Liberty Bank branches in South Buffalo and later Fleet Bank until it became a Bank of America office in 2004.
The building is located one block south of the former Shea's Seneca Theater, where Schneider already is engaged in a full rehabilitation project.
“This building is a hidden gem and acquiring it was an easy decision,” Jake Schneider, president of Schneider Development and CEO of Schneider Family of Services, said in a statement announcing the purchase. “The activity and interest surrounding Seneca Street, especially since we announced Shea’s Seneca, has been amazing and we think this building will only add to the vibrancy that is taking shape on the street right before our eyes.”
At Shea's Seneca, Schneider is converting the 48,000-square-foot former theater building into 21 apartments and space for four commercial tenants, including Public Coffee and Espresso, Second Generation Theater and Classic Banquets. It's slated to open in late summer 2018.
The developer hopes the new venture will complement the $9 million Shea's project, as well as other redevelopment along Seneca, to maintain the growing revival of the South Buffalo commercial corridor. Besides Schneider, other developers working in South Buffalo include Karl Frizlen and Hook & Ladder Development.
Schneider said workers will uncover historic architectural details of the building that have been hidden for decades. For example, a drop ceiling conceals 30-foot ceilings with original plasterwork, while bricks cover ornate stained glass windows.
“At some point, a number of the original architectural details were enclosed,” Schneider said. “We will bring all of these elements back to the forefront of the building’s design. It should look really special by the time we are done.”
The bank also features the original walk-in vault and security deposit boxes, which could be incorporated into the redesign, Schneider said. “It will depend on what type of tenant we secure for the building,” Schneider said. “Obviously, the more we can preserve, the better. That’s always our philosophy.”
The property includes 56 parking spaces, some of which could be transformed into an outdoor seating area behind the building if a tenant wants a patio.
Schneider also plans to seek state and federal historic tax credits to help finance the project, which he dubbed Liberty Seneca in recognition of the original owner.
Company representatives are seeking a tenant and have had some "preliminary conversations," said Matt Hartrich, Schneider vice president of development. Final development costs and timelines will depend on the tenant.
"It was definitely a good deal in our opinion," Hartrich said. "We also see potential in the neighborhood, where Bank of America did not."