Developer Wants to Build Huge Armory Square Project


September 08, 2006

By Tim Knauss, Staff writer

The chief executive officer of The Pioneer Cos. says he's planning to spend $70 million to $90 million to build a mix of housing, retail and office space on two parking lots he bought last week near Armory Square.

But first he's looking for ideas.

So Michael P. Falcone is sponsoring a class this fall at the Warehouse, the downtown quarters of Syracuse University's School of Architecture. The Warehouse sits between the two lots.

Ten architecture students participating in the semester- long "Pioneer Studio" will develop designs for the buildings, at least one of which Falcone hopes to use as a basis for his project. Falcone said he's given the students little direction beyond asking them to consider a mix of apartments or condos, retail and office space, and possibly student housing.

He's hoping for results that are "completely different than anything that's been done here," he said. "They're going to give the market something that they haven't seen before."

To help teach the class, Falcone paid to bring in innovative Manhattan architect Lindy Roy, founder and principal of ROY Co., whose projects include the chic Andre Balazs Hotel QT in Times Square.

Roy will fly in every two weeks to meet with the class, which she teaches in collaboration with Ted Brown, an SU architecture professor. Falcone will meet regularly with the students, who include a mix of graduate students and fourth-year undergraduates.

"It's definitely my most exciting class," said Jason Evans, a fourth- year student from LaFayette. "I can't wait to keep working on it."

After the class concludes in December, Roy will continue working with Falcone to help develop the project.

It's not unusual for the architecture school to bring in visiting experts to help teach "studios," which are practical courses arranged around the design of a project, said Mary Kate O'Brien, speaking for the school.

But it is unusual for the project to be a real one.

"It's very rare," Roy agreed. "It's a pretty fantastic opportunity." Roy said she knows Falcone from working with him on potential projects in New York City. The Pioneer Cos. closed last week on the purchase of the two former E.M. O'Donnell parking lots, Falcone said. He declined to reveal the price.

The lots will remain open for parking, operated by Murbro Parking, until a decision is made about the development, Falcone said.

Both lots are visible from the design studios in the Warehouse. One extends from Franklin Street west along Washington Street to the north side of the Warehouse. The smaller lot is across Fayette Street from the Warehouse, bounded by Onondaga Creek and Walton Street.

Syracuse University bought the Warehouse, a former furniture company storage facility, last year as part of Chancellor Nancy Cantor's plan to strengthen ties between the university and downtown. The architecture school is using the building temporarily while its on- campus facility is renovated.

Other university programs will use the space after the architecture school moves out.

Falcone said zoning regulations would permit development of about 400,000 square feet on the two parking lots. By comparison, the nearby six-story AT&T building at 250 S. Clinton St., which Pioneer built in 1990 and where it still has its offices, comprises about 220,000 square feet.

You can contact Staff Writer Tim Knauss at tknauss@syracuse.com or 470-3023.

2006 The Post-Standard.