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Outside redevelopment of Seneca Theatre about to begin

For decades, the Seneca Theatre, located at Seneca and Cazenovia streets, has been a symbol of what South Buffalo was. The building is deteriorated and the actual theater space was torn down to make way for a parking lot. However, the community is looking forward to a $9 million rebirth.

Developer Jake Schneider suspects nothing has been done to the building since 1969. He said both the interior and the exterior are in rough shape.

"A lot of beautiful, historic infrastructure, but there has been damage over the years," Schneider said. "We have a roof, that literally, there were garbage containers on the second floor collecting water. We had to do a lot of remedial work just to get through the winter. There has been damage done to the exterior envelope."

Schneider said outside work will start in June. The priority will be the outside of the building, especially installing a new roof so that it is all closed in by late fall so the inside can be finished during the winter.

It was always a neighborhood theater, with people walking in for movies and dances, and Schneider sees that walking culture returning. In the fall of next year, Second Generation Theatre will be moving into the space to offer live performances.

A major problem is the sidewalk out front, not even wide enough for two people to pass each other. South Buffalo Common Councilmember Chris Scanlon said the city is going to make changes to improve pedestrian access and help the entire project be more welcoming.

"Obviously, with Jake Schneider's redevelopment of that property, it's going to be a major catalyst for Seneca Street," Scanlon said. "There's some other projects taking place on the street, as well, some redevelopment at St. Teresa's School becoming apartments, St. John's Church becoming apartments, as well. But, when you come from Abbott Road to Seneca Street there, we want to make sure that whole intersection pops."

Neighborhood resident Fred Collins said he remembers walking to the theater as a child and is looking forward to doing it again after the building re-opens in May of next year. The rehab will provide apartments inside the structure, as well as a restaurant and possibly a coffee shop.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.