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Restored Shea's Seneca opens with 'groundswell of support' in South Buffalo

Shea's Seneca, once the glittering hub of Seneca Street before falling into crumbling decay, had a coming out party Thursday to celebrate its extreme makeover and restoration.

The dedication of the building looks ahead to its future as the heart of a South Buffalo neighborhood on the upswing. The former movie theater and other built-out space has been transformed into 23 market-rate apartments, four retail tenants and a banquet space.

The theater's restored lobby, built in 1929, and adjoining space is now home to anchor tenant Shea's Seneca Banquets and Catering, owned by Molly Koessler, who operates Acqua, Hotel @ the Lafayette and Events @ the Foundry. The building's actual movie theater was demolished in 1970 and is now a parking lot at the rear.

Next door, along Seneca Street, are a row of retail spaces.

"These are really terrific, interactive tenants that are what the street needs," said Jake Schneider, president of Schneider Development Services, which restored the 48,000-square-foot building.

Public Espresso, a coffee shop and Cantina 62, a taco shop currently located on South Park Avenue, will open by February. April Spencer Floral Design, a florist, and Bottle Rocket, a hybrid bar and beer store, are already open.

More than half of the high-end loft apartments have been leased, at rents from $995 to $2,100. Eight units are already occupied.

Schneider called Shea's Seneca "the most challenging project we've ever done" since founding company in 2003; and not just because the theater's place on the National Register of Historic Places meant carefully working with the National Park Service to get things right. He knew he could renovate the building, but he wasn't sure the community would support it.

It turns out the worries were unfounded. In fact, he has found it easier to do business on Seneca than downtown, because of the population density and abundant parking, he said.

"I have never had such a groundswell of support," he said. "The neighborhood was just so ready."

The project is part of a flurry of investment in the neighborhood. Several other developers have invested in land nearby, including Ellicott Development's Maritime Charter School, Hook & Ladder's redevelopment of 2111 Seneca and Karl Frizlen's School Lofts @ Seneca.

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