A South Buffalo building that used to be the site of a bar, then sat empty and dilapidated, is open again and serving its neighborhood as a multi-purpose community center.
What is now known as the St. Simon's Genesis Center, at 2161 Seneca Street, was formally dedicated Thursday morning. St. Simon's Episcopal Church is located around the corner on Cazenovia Street and, for many years, operated a food pantry and subsequently started a soup kitchen.
When the parish realized the growing demand, church members set to work finding a new space to expand their mission.
"Why would a church buy a run-down bar on Seneca Street?" joked Episcopal Bishop William Franklin as he led a blessing and ribbon-cutting ceremony outside the facility's front door.
The former bar changed names over the years and, according to Deacon Milania Lullo, even hosted early gigs by the Goo Goo Dolls before the local rock band made it big. But then, hard times hit and the bar's owners found it necessary to close. They weren't the only ones suffering in this neighborhood.
"Over the years the economic woes of Buffalo, the urban community, it takes its toll on the people," Lullo said. "We're finding the marginalized, the disenfranchised, those who are on the fringe of society, have come here to this area. That's what this center has been born from."
The building was bought in a tax auction. The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation provided funds to allow an extensive renovation of the building.
The services to be provided range from a full kitchen and food pantry to clothes closets, meeting spaces for various support groups and even a medical clinic from where a volunteer doctor will hold occasional hours to serve guests.
Bishop Franklin told guests at the opening ceremony that what used to be a bar is now the "living symbol of the new Buffalo."
"My prayer is that this bar will inspire others in our city and in our church to take risks, so that everybody can rise," he said.
Partners who will assist St. Simon's with operating the Genesis Center include Erie Community College, the Family Justice Center and an estimated 100 registered volunteers.