BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Each Monday, we introduce you to a City Shaper — someone or a group of people who are making a positive impact in Western New York's communities.
This week, 2 On Your Side's Kelly Dudzik shows us how three Buffalo firefighters are transforming the Seneca Street corridor in South Buffalo.
Life-long friends John Otto and Peter Scarcello joined the Fire Academy about eight years ago.
"John and I are childhood friends. We grew up in South Buffalo together," says Scarcello.
"He grew up right down Abbott Road on Edgewood. I was a couple of years ahead of him at Bishop Timon High School," says Otto.
Meanwhile, Gino Gatti grew up on the West Side.
"We quickly found out we weren't handymen. So, that's where Gino actually came into the mix," says Otto.
The three men ended up working at the same firehouse on the same shift and, in 2012, formed Hook and Ladder Development.
"Pete's more of a realtor, John's kind of the mathematical genius to the whole thing," says Gatti.
Hook and Ladder took off, and soon it was time to open a permanent office.
"We were basically just working from home and literally out of our vehicles. And then in 2014, we started really to ramp up our acquisitions. So, we decided if we were going to really grow the company, we needed to work out of a space," says Scarcello.
John, Peter, and Gino always wanted their headquarters to be on Seneca Street in the heart of South Buffalo.
So, when 2111 Seneca became available, they jumped at the chance to buy it and renovate it.
"We kind of see the infrastructures here to have a walkable district, and it's storefront, after storefront, after storefront, and they are beautiful buildings, they just need a little love," says Gatti.
The developers now own more than 30 properties. Many, like 2111 Seneca Street, are mixed-use. It has apartments on the second and third floors. Hook and Ladder is also renovating the building across the street and the Barber Shop on the corner. They also have plans to convert St. John the Evangelist Church into commercial space on the first floor and market rate apartments on the second floor.
"I've seen potential on this street since I was a 12-year-old kid, you know, it just, the key components all exist to really bring this corridor back to life. And to, really one of the biggest things we're trying to do in South Buffalo, in particular on Seneca Street, is introduce it to other parts of the City. We really want people to come down and experience and get a feel for what's going on in this neighborhood," says Scarcello.
Several developers are focusing their efforts on South Buffalo. Earlier this year, Schneider Development announced it would be renovating what remains of the Shea's Seneca Theater.
Hundreds of people from the neighborhood and beyond packed the lobby for the announcement including John, Peter, and Gino.
"How does it make you feel to know you're having a big impact on the community you grew up in?" asked 2 On Your Side’s Kelly Dudzik.
"Well, it means a lot. Especially the Seneca Street corridor. My family is originally from Seneca Street, both my mother and my father. To be able to identify this as our main concentration and to be ultra-focused on the Seneca Street corridor means a lot," says Otto.
"We're really excited to be a part of it, and I'm a South Buffalo guy, John's a South Buffalo guy, Gino is an adopted son, he's a Westsider, but we love having him a part of what's going in this neighborhood and he'll tell you that he feels like this is his community, you know, so it's great. It's a really cool experience for the three of us," says Scarcello.
If you know someone who would be a good City Shaper, you can nominate them by contacting Kelly Dudzik.