With all five commercial spaces leased and construction work proceeding on schedule, executives at Schneider Development are now hoping to get their new Shea's Seneca mixed-use complex opened and filled by September, even as they seek a tenant for the new Liberty Seneca across the street.
Jake Schneider's company, which bought the historic former Shea's Seneca Theatre complex two years ago, is converting the two-story commercial building, located at 2178 Seneca St., into a combination of residential and retail space. That's part of an effort with other developers to revive the Seneca Street corridor in the South Buffalo neighborhood.
The 48,500-square-foot building was originally part of the movie house and entertainment venue built by Michael Shea in 1929. The 2,500-seat theater was torn down in 1969 for a parking lot.
"Construction's proceeding nicely, and the project's holding to budget," Schneider said.
The $9.5 million project will be anchored by a new banquet facility run by William and Molly Koessler's Seneca Events Catering.
Four additional retail spaces will be leased by Public Espresso + Coffee, a coffee shop run by Sam Scarcello; Bottle Rocket, a craft beer store led by Billy Lewis and Nate Manna; April Spencer Florist Designs, which will work with the Koesslers on events; and Cantina 62, an upscale taco restaurant that is relocating from South Park Avenue in Lackawanna.
"It'll be a nice restaurant for the community," Schneider said of Cantina 62. "We're happy about that."
The rest of the building will consist of 23 apartments, including 14 one-bedroom units and nine two-bedroom apartments. Schneider said his firm hasn't started leasing the apartments, but the project will be part of the annual Downtown Living Tour on June 16, "so that will be a grand opening to showcase the model unit."
The building is slated to open Aug. 1.
One block south and across the street, meanwhile, Schneider is marketing the Liberty Seneca building as a 3,800-square-foot space ideal for a restaurant or other "entertainment venue." It is designed as "a complementary component of our broader redevelopment initiative for the Seneca Street commercial corridor," according to Schneider Development's website.
"We are looking to find the right tenant," Schneider said. "That whole neighborhood is coming back to life, and there are a lot of developers working there."
The developer bought the former Liberty Bank branch last October for $150,000 from Bank of America Corp. The one-story building, 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 has ornate plaster ceilings, stained-glass windows, 20-foot ceilings and other features typical of an older bank, such as the original bank vault and safety deposit boxes. Schneider noted that, while it's just a single-story building, there is space to add a 1,200-square-foot mezzanine level and enough land to add onto the building's footprint. There also is a 3,500-square-foot basement, plus parking for 56 cars.
"It's got a lot of historic charm," he said. "It's got a lot of ambiance. It's a really nice building."
Other developers are working on their own projects along Seneca and neighboring streets, bringing new life to older and sometimes vacant buildings. Karl Frizlen converted the former St. Teresa's school into apartments, while the firefighter trio of Hook & Ladder Development has been tackling numerous smaller buildings with first-floor retail and apartments upstairs. Ellicott Development is now working with the Western New York Maritime Charter School to put a $13 million addition on its new location just off Seneca.
The momentum has led to the formation of a new nonprofit community group called The Coalition for a Vibrant Seneca, with businesses and residents collaborating to strengthen the neighborhood. Schneider said the group eventually wants to hold festivals on the street and brand the neighborhood. "We're beyond the formative stages, but we're still early in the process," he said. "It's exciting, and there's a lot of enthusiasm on the consensus that's being built."
Developers also are working with city officials on plans for a Complete Streets program to upgrade the streetscape on Seneca, much as the city has done with other major districts in Buffalo. Preliminary ideas will be unveiled at a public meeting on June 4 at St. John's Church at 2315 Seneca.
"We have some thoughts and we're sharing those thoughts with the community for the first time," Schneider said.