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Grant money available for Seneca Street building improvements

Property owners on a stretch of Seneca Street can now apply for state-funded matching grants to help give their buildings a makeover.

The grants can be used to cover the cost of rehabbing and enhancing building facades, as part of the newest effort to strengthen the heart of the South Buffalo commercial corridor.

The facade improvement program is designed to revitalize a six-block area of Seneca Street. The goal is to make the area more walkable and pedestrian-friendly, encouraging more businesses to open and residents to move into the surrounding neighborhood.

About 80 buildings are eligible for the money, which must be used for aesthetic projects for residential or commercial buildings on both sides of Seneca from Cazenovia Street to Warren Spahn Way.

"It's really geared toward buildings along the main thoroughfare, not the side streets," said Marc Pasquale, who heads the Coalition for a Vibrant Seneca Street. "The projects that we’re looking at will be things that in some ways will impact the walkability of Seneca Street and make it stand out so that all people from the neighborhood will be able to appreciate and share in your project."

The renovation program, funded through a $300,000 grant from the Better Buffalo Fund, will be administered by the Wellness Institute of Buffalo, which obtained the money on behalf of the Coalition for a Vibrant Seneca Street. Projects will be selected by a committee comprised of city officials, local residents and business owners.

"We know that the best days for Seneca Street are not in the past. They’re immediately in front of us," said state Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo. "This investment that’s happening right before our eyes is not only creating a new quality of life and a vibrancy on Seneca Street, but it’s creating jobs and opportunities as well right here in the community."

Properties with both a residential and a commercial component can receive more money, and the maximum amount any property owner could receive is $125,000, depending on how many residential units, Pasquale said. But most projects would only seek or qualify for much less, he added.

More information and applications will be made available at an informational session that will be held from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 28 at the Cazenovia Neighborhood Library at 155 Cazenovia St.

"We already have a lot of people who have expressed interest," Pasquale said.

Kennedy also noted that the new funding is the latest in a series of new investments along Seneca Street, including developer Jake Schneider's $9 million project to renovate the former Shea's Seneca Theatre commercial building into new apartments and retail space, as well as multiple other projects by Hook & Ladder Development, Karl Frizlen and Ellicott Development Co.

"Seneca Street is on the move. Regardless of what else happens, there is a great trajectory right here on Seneca Street," the senator said.

In fact, the new marquee sign for Shea's Seneca arrived Monday, and was being installed on the building at 2178 Seneca. Shea's Seneca is slated to open this fall.

This is the second phase of such renovation work along Seneca, after a prior round that also totaled $300,000 in matching funds. A third round is expected later. In all, more than $1.8 million will have been spent on Seneca Street facades – half through grants and half from matching investments by the property owners.

"This is giving a whole new life to our community, where people are no longer hesitant to invest in their homes. They’re taking greater pride in it," Pasquale said. "We’re seeing more people coming into the neighborhood and wanting to be here."

The coalition is also working with city officials on a broader streetscape plan for Seneca Street, including roundabouts, new landscaping and new lighting.

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