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Big Plan for Clinton Square Site

Amos Bldg. project would spend $19M for luxury apartments, business

By Frederic Pierce, Staff writer, The Post-Standard
Monday, December 22, 2003

A Buffalo-area developer plans to buy the long-vacant Amos Building on Syracuse's Clinton Square and transform it into a 78-unit luxury apartment and commercial complex.

CRS Properties is ready to spend up to $19 million to restore and expand the 125-year-old building, the last remaining eyesore in the circle of structures surrounding the rebuilt square, city officials said.

"This not only completes Clinton Square, but it complements it, " Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll said, " It fills in an empty area, it provides the kind of housing we know there's a market for and it shows the investment that the private sector is willing to make in downtown Syracuse."

Plans call for two additions to the building, to be built on parking lots at the east and west ends of Amos Building, said Dan Queri of DeWitt, one of the company's local representatives. The building is between the James M. Hanley Federal Building and Clinton Exchange.

The completed complex will have 10,000 square feet of retail or restaurant space, 84 underground parking spaces an exercise room and a 3,000-square-foot conference area with a terrace overlooking Clinton Square, Queri said.

The developers hope to break ground next summer, and begin leasing space in the summer of 2005, he said.

"It's about the continuation of the redevelopment of Clinton Square," Queri said, referring to the $9.2 million transformation of the square into a permanent city park three years ago. " This is a great project, and we're very excited about it."

Queri is a former member of the Destiny USA development team, but said he hasn't been affiliated with that project since he and several other employees left Destiny last spring.

He is working with local businessman John "Skip" Cerio and CRS, which developed the Pepsi Center in Amherst and several affordable housing projects in the Buffalo Area.

The proposed Amos Building project would be aimed at higher income groups like young professionals and "empty nesters" who have grown children and want to downsize their housing Queri said.

The project will include a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments that will begin renting for $800 to $850 a month, he said. There also will be several two-bedroom townhouse apartments _ some with private terraces – and a luxury penthouse suite with a rooftop garden.

There will be a rooftop garden for residents of the building, as well as a 700-square-foot exercise room filled with weight-lifting and cardio-vascular equipment, Queri said.

The first floor of both the existing Amos Building and the additions will be for retail tenants, including a restaurant.

On the east side, near the square, the developers plan a five story addition that will fill in a paved, vacant lot now leased by Allright Parking and filled with downtown workers' cars all day.

The new structure would be designed with an historic look patterned after the decorative brick facade and Romanesque windows of the Amos Building. The Amos` facade was designed by architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee, the same man who envisioned the historic Syracuse Savings Bank on the other side of the square.

The addition will come nearly all the way to Clinton Street, where plans show a terrace facing the square that the developers hope a restaurant will use for seating.

The plans also call for a second large terrace above it, on the second floor, where a large conference area will overlook the square, Queri said.

Parking for tenants of the Amos Building would be underground, in a second addition built on the west side of the historic structure, plans show.

The Amos Building, 208-18 Water St., is owned by a partnership involving former state Sen. Tarky Lombardi and his family, and a Binghamton construction and development company.

The group, which replaced rotting timbers in the building with steel beams and partially renovated it for tenants in the late 1980s, is nearing legal resolution to a dispute between the partners over the site, said Bart Feinberg, the city's director of economic development.

Once that happens, CRS should be able to buy the property, Feinberg said.

One of the owners already has accepted a purchase offer from CRS, which is confident it will be able to reach an agreement with the other one, Queri said.

The Lombardi group didn't finish what had been trumpeted as a $2.8 million renovation when a $1.5 million federal loan fell through. It did, however, lease space to the Syracuse Suds Factory, which operated in the building from 1993 to 1998 before moving to its current location in Armory Square.

The Amos Building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since the late 1970s. It was built in 1878 by the late Amos family, which owned flour mills and a brick factory that eventually became Paragon Supply. The five-story brick building was perched on the Erie Canal before it became Erie Boulevard, and held a variety of markets and businesses during the canal era.

Because the Erie Canal-side of the building was its "working" side, the Amos Building's appearance from Erie Boulevard is plain. The Water Street side, which faces the federal building, is adorned with decorative brick work.

CRS has been working the project for about nine months, Queri said. The group hopes to get financing for the renovations and construction through the state Housing Finance Agency. Although the HFA typically funds senior-assisted living-, or low-income housing projects, Queri said CRS has identified some HFA programs it is confident the Amos proposal will fall under.

The building is also in the city's Empire and Empowerment zones, and the developer plans to take advantage of those incentives, Queri said.

Builder seeks tax breaks

Amos Building Developer wants millions of dollars of help from governments.

By Rick Moriatry, Staff writer, The Post-Standard
Wednesday, December 24,2003

The developer of a proposed luxury apartment and commercial building overlooking Clinton Square is seeking big government subsidies for the $19 million project.

CRS Properties Inc., of Williamsville, figures to get reimbursed by the state for all of the property taxes it pays on the Amos Building for 15 years, under the state's Empire Zone economic development program.

But in addition, the developer is seeking a host of local, state and federal subsidies to help it build the project on the block at the southwest corner of South Clinton Street and Erie Boulevard West.

Among them: It wants the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County to donate back to the project 75 percent of the property taxes it pays for 20 years.

That would amount to a direct subsidy of about $5.6 million, 75 percent of the $7.5 million in taxes that the developer estimates it would pay over 20 years. The city and county would keep $1.8 million, or 25 percent of the estimated taxes over that period.

CRS President John E. "Skip" Cerio said the company could not do the project without the government subsidies.

To make it profitable without subsidies, CRS would have to charge $1,500 a month for one-bedroom apartments – too high for the Syracuse market, he said. With the subsidies, the company could charge rents starting at $850 a month, he said.

Cerio, who was a top political aide to former Mayor Lee Alexander, said the public's interest would be served by the government subsidies because the project would greatly enhance Clinton Square, a downtown focal point that was recently rebuilt by the city at a cost of $9.2 million.

"This is a monumental undertaking; but we think the timing is right," he said.

Mayor Matt Driscoll said he will consider supporting the subsidies because the project would transform a "derelict" property into a luxury residential and retail center. But he'll do so only if CRS shows it has solid financing other than the city's assistance, he said.

"There's no question we want to foster the development of the downtown area," he said. "If they can put a project together, certainly the city would consider the assistance."

Even after giving back 75 percent of the property taxes on the project, the city and county would be getting more taxes than it receives on the property, Driscoll said.

The owners of the property pay $29,394 a year in property taxes, Driscoll said. Under the deal proposed by CRS, the city and county would get an average of $90,000 a year in taxes.

A rebate of property taxes isn't the only break the development is seeking from the city.

CRS is asking the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency to donate 75 percent, or $142,500, of its $190,000 project fee to pay for sidewalks, curbs and streetscape improvements around the building. The agency normally charges a fee equal to 1 percent of a project's costs in exchange for helping a developer, usually with tax breaks.

The developer also is asking the city to provide, for free, 75 spaces in the Washington Street parking garage a few blocks to the west, for tenants of the building. The spaces would complement 84 parking spaces in the building's basement.

Driscoll said the city would be willing to negotiate a discount on the lease of the parking spaces in the garage but would not provide them for free.

In addition, CRS plans to ask the state Housing Finance Agency to provide tax-free, state-guaranteed bonds to finance part of the project. The bonds would carry any interest rate of about 4.5 percent, far less than the 7 percent to 7.5 percent that private lenders would charge.

The state agency can help projects only if they provide affordable housing for low-income individuals and families. CRS is billing the Clinton Square project as luxury apartments for high-income people.

To qualify for the state bonds, the developer would have to reserve 20 percent of its residential space – or about 15 of its 78 apartments – for low-income tenants. Those tenants would pay monthly rents of about $420 to $450 for a one-bedroom apartment, about half the starting rent others would have to pay.

To qualify for the lower rents, a tenant's income could be no higher than $18,450 a year. A two-person family could have an income no higher than $21,100.

CRS also hopes to obtain federal grants, Cerio said.

The government help is needed because CRS can borrow privately only about $10 million to $12 million for the project, Cerio said. The balance of the construction costs – $7 million to $9 million – will have to be provided through the government tax credits, rebates and grants, he said.

Cerio said the company tried similar projects in Rochester and Buffalo about three years ago, before the state enhanced the tax credits available under the Empire Zone program. But the company was not able to obtain enough financing, he said.

In addition to the financial assistance, CRS might ask the city's Industrial Development Agency to use its eminent domain powers to acquire two parcels of land, totaling about 5,170 square feet, that are needed for the project.

CRS is trying to buy the parcels privately from Hiawatha Realty Corp. and Allied Realty Corp., both of which are controlled by the family of former state Sen. Tarky Lombard Jr., he said. The two corporations have not responded to the developer's purchase offer, Cerio said.

The agency can use its eminent domain powers to acquire land for projects it deems in the public interest, which would create jobs or which would prevent economic deterioration.

Cerio said the project would create up to 200 temporary construction jobs among the building's commercial tenants.

Cerio and Dan Queri, an officer and principal in CRS represented the company's financing plan and requests to the Industrial Development Agency on Tuesday morning. The agency agreed to hold a public hearing on the project Feb. 10, a requirement under state law before it can provide any aid.

In addition to the development agency, the Syracuse Common Council and the Onondaga County Legislature would have to approve any diversion of property taxes to the project. Cerio said he plans to meet with county Economic Development Director Donald Western today.

The subsidies the developer is seeking are not unprecedented.

The city development agency is donating its project fee to a $13 million renovation of the former O.M. Edwards factory in Franklin Square into apartments, offices and retail space.

And the city and county have agreed to waive all property taxes on the proposed $2.2 billion Destiny USA retail and entertainment for 30 years.

County to consider tax break for developer

By Rick Moriatry, Staff writer, The Post-Standard
Thursday, December 25, 2003

Onondaga County's economic development director said Wednesday the county will consider a developer's request for big tax breaks for a proposed luxury apartment and commercial building near Clinton Square.

"It appears to be a very ambitious project," said Donald Western, "If someone is willing to take that level of interest in it, it's certainly worth looking at it very closely."

Western and Deputy County Executive Ed Kochian met with representatives of CRS Properties Inc. Wednesday morning to review the proposal.

CRS is asking the city and county to give back 75 percent, of $5.6 million, of the $7.5 million the developer expect to pay in property taxes over 20 years. The company says it could not afford to do the project without the tax break, which would have to be approved by the Syracuse Common Council and the Onondaga County Legislature.

Western said it was too early for the county to give the developer an answer about the tax breaks. But given the cost issues unique to development of the downtown property and the fact that the site has been mostly a vacant, underperforming property for 20 years, the county likely would entertain the idea of granting the tax breaks, he said.

A high-end development on the property – the Amos Building block at the southwest corner of Erie Boulevard West and Clinton Street – would complement other downtown development, he said.

"This could fit in well," said Western.

Though he didn't get a commitment from the county, CRS President John E. "Skip" Cerio said the meeting went well.

"It's just an initial step, but I think the project was very well received," he said.

CRS, which is based in the Buffalo area wants to expand the 125-year old Amos building into 78 luxury apartments and retail space. The site overlooks Clinton Square, which the city recently rebuilt at a cost of $9.2 million and is the scene of many summer community festivals.

Mayor Matt Driscoll said Tuesday he would consider supporting the tax breaks if the company can show it has lined up financing for the project.

In addition to property tax breaks, CRS plans to seek state Empire Zone tax credits, tax-exempt bonding from the state Housing Finance Agency and federal grant money for the $19 million project.

Amos Building Project sounds great, but…

By Rick Moriatry, Staff writer, The Post-Standard
Wednesday, December 24,2003

A developer plans to purchase and expand the Amos Building, the 125-year old brick structure that once stood by the Erie Canal and now shares a prime downtown block with parking lots.

The plan includes apartments, shops, restaurants and underground parking, just southwest of Clinton Square.

Sounds good, but it's not fair. Tenants who live and work downtown won't need to drive to their jobs, spending all that money on gasoline an all that time dodging aggressive lane-changers during the commute to the suburbs.

They'll be able to step outside, cress the street and go ice skating. They won't fight over parking spaces for musical festivals in Clinton Square.

They'll walk a couple blocks to the main library.

Consider this
After a night out in Armory Square, they'll stroll back home.
A rooftop garden and an exercise room for tenants? Not fair, not fair.

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