Big plan for Clinton Square site

December 22, 2003

By Frederic Pierce, Post-Standard Staff writer

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 the 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 a 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 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 on 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.

2003 The Post-Standard.