Local construction company to turn downtown building into student housing

UPDATED: MAY 15, 4:35 p.m.

Syracuse University students will soon see new living options in downtown Syracuse, after a new construction company revamps a vacant office building into student apartments.

Syracuse Creekwalk Commons, Inc. plans to renovate the building on 324 W. Water Street to create about 70 apartments to house 146 students. Located near Armory Square, the building provides easy access to the Connective Corridor, said James Breuer, the project’s director and contractor.

“We believe it’s properly located to complement the revitalization effort that the chancellor has done in that part of town with the Warehouse, the Connective Corridor and the West Side Initiative,” Breuer said.

He said he took design input from students in the College of Visual and Performing Arts after visiting the Warehouse Gallery and asking students what features they wanted in the building.

The project will completely overhaul the building, leaving only the original structure intact. Breuer said the apartments will either be one-bedroom or two-bedroom spaces, with nearby amenities such as small work spaces for VPA students, study rooms for students to work in, an eatery, and a theater in the building.

The renovation is part of a larger initiative to “activate” real-estate development and private investment along the Connective Corridor, Linda Hartsock, director of community engagement and economic development at SU, said in an email.

The success of Copper Beech, a similar student housing project on East Genessee Street, proves that students are a key component of downtown living, she said.

“SU, ESF, Upstate Medical University and SUNY Oswego students enliven the central business district, and their energy makes it more vibrant,” Hartsock said.

Having a student presence downtown pushes demand for new local restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores and other businesses – “all of which make for positive change,” she said.

The leasing plan will offer students 10-month or 12-month leases, and summer-only leases, Breuer said. Once completed, the dormitory will house students from local colleges, including SU, SUNY Oswego, St. Joseph’s College of Nursing and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, he said.

The project is the first of its kind in downtown Syracuse, Breuer said. While young professionals have flocked to the area, the college student presence is still sparse, with the nearest student housing to downtown being SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Geneva Tower on Harrison Street, he said. The new apartments would be the closest to the core of downtown.

“Here’s a population that’s never been represented downtown,” Breuer said. “We thought that amongst the higher institutions around here there would be 146 students who would want to increase their college experience by living in an urban setting.”

Syracuse Creekwalk Commons recently applied for status as a nonprofit corporation, which would allow the company to borrow money for the project at lower interest rates, Breuer said.

The new apartment complex could also be exempt from property taxes, but being developed by a nonprofit company does not guarantee this, said Dave Clifford, commissioner of the Department of Assessment. He added that the city would need to make sure the building was being used for educational purposes.

The city assessed the value of the land at $404,000 and the building’s value at more than $1.6 million, Clifford said.

To fund the project, the company applied for $17 million in bonds from the Onondaga Civic Development Corporation, which helps provide non-profit organizations with financing, the Post-Standard reported in a May 7 article.

The company is waiting on an appraisal of the building’s value to determine the building’s selling price, which Breuer said should be completed within the next few weeks. He said he hopes to receive financing for the project, finalize the building sale and begin construction in July.

The goal, Breuer said, is to have models of the building and its apartments for students to view by this fall and unveil the new apartment complex by July 2014.

“We think this is a wonderful opportunity to bring a new population to downtown Syracuse, a population that hasn’t been served before,” Breuer said. “I actually wish it was larger so we could provide the opportunity to more.”


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