Editor's note: The "dozens of color photographs" mentioned in the article below are copies of the photos posted here at "Syracuse Then and Now." When PACNY asked the city's Community Development department for access to photograph historic buildings under the city's control, we offered to provide the city copies of these photos for the city’s use in marketing these buildings. We are pleased to see the city putting our photos to such good use.


Syracuse enlists SU's help in finding buyer for Mizpah

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

By Frederic Pierce, Staff writer

The city of Syracuse today is launching its third attempt in a little more than a year to find a developer to buy the decaying Mizpah Tower complex and turn it into a downtown showpiece.

City officials today plan to mail a new request for proposals, or RFP, to about 40 developers who they think might be interested in the Gothic landmark, said Dave Michel, the city's economic development director. They are also publishing an advertisement for proposals in today's Post-Standard.

"We're hoping to get a wider group of people interested," City Administration Director Ken Mokrzycki said. "The more we have to choose from, the better the proposals will be that we have to choose from."

To that end, city economic development officials turned the RFP packet sent to developers into a marketing tool.

The bid package being made available today will be roughly triple the size of the previous packets.

The new RFP includes dozens of color photographs of the Mizpah, floor plans, building details, and information on potential government assistance. It includes a chronology of the building's history and the contractors and architects who worked on it.

"There's more information on the building to try to let people who are interested in historic renovation know this is a great opportunity," Michel said. "We're sending them to people who have expressed interest in the building and who are interested in this type of project."

The additions were based largely on the recommendations of Syracuse University's School of Architecture, whose experts Mayor Matt Driscoll enlisted for help after the city's first two efforts to sell the building failed, resulting in the ouster of two city officials and the elimination of three bids.

Dean Mark Robbins and other officials from SU's architecture school toured the Mizpah early this year and left impressed by the architecture and historic features that remain in the building, Michel said.

"The thinking has been, that building's in real terrible shape," Michel said. "But Mark Robbins thought there's a lot of significant things in the building, particularly in the sanctuary."

The 91-year-old former church, hotel and restaurant has been vacant for nearly 17 years. During that time, water leaked through the ceiling, damaging walls and woodwork.

During tour through the building Tuesday, the dark hallways were damp and smelled of moldy wood. Strips of peeled paint hang from the ceilings like stalactites, and crunch beneath visitors' feet like dry leaves.

Vandals stole many of the Mizpah's valuable stained-glass windows and trespassers left tattered and soiled copies of Playboy magazine strewn around a stack of religious books in an upstairs room. Pigeons made the upper floors of the building their home for years, and some rooms in the upper floors - which once served as an extension of the adjacent YMCA's dormitory - are covered with pigeon droppings up to a foot deep.

The city had originally hoped SU would be interested in buying the building and renovating it as part of its downtown campus plans, but that idea didn't work out, Michel said.

Instead, the city decided to go for a third RFP, and asked the architects to put together some recommendations and a report on the building's history and assets.

City officials received it about two weeks ago, Michel said. They incorporated parts of the report into guidelines nearly identical to the two previous RFPs.

The first effort - which attracted two developers - fell apart in May 2004, when city officials held a fake bid opening after mixing up two city procedures. The debacle cost two top City Hall officials their jobs and forced the issuance of a second RFP.

That RFP drew three bidders, all of whom were eventually disqualified.

A group led by Syracuse resident Alan Isserlis forgot to include a $5,000 deposit check with its proposal. City officials refused to read Isserlis' $19 million plan to turn Mizpah into a boutique hotel and banquet center.

A team led by Jacob Ohayon, a former manager for Miami investor Eli Hadad, was dismissed because the proposal arrived at City Hall just after the deadline. Ohayon had also hoped to turn Mizpah into a hotel.

The third proposal, to restore the building to its original use as a church and human service center, made the initial cut. A city committee eventually nixed the plan, submitted by a new congregation of the Wesleyan Church, because the plans were vague and they had no clear financing.

Representatives for all three of them Tuesday said they are still interested in developing the building.

"Everyone knows I'm still interested," said Isserlis, who said he submitted a purchase offer to the city for Mizpah two months ago. "My team is still together. I'd buy the building tomorrow if I could."

Isserlis cautioned, however, that the building's future - whether it's with him or somebody else - will depend on how much damage and deterioration the Mizpah suffered over the winter. That will determine whether last year's ideas are still financially feasible, or even possible, he said.

City officials secured the building against weather and pigeons last fall and have periodically checked it since, Michel said. So far, it appears to have weathered it well, he said.

The city has still not spent roughly $140,000 in federal money that Rep. James Walsh made available to weatherize the building last year, Michel said. It will probably be used to improve the building before the city sells it to a developer, he said.

That could be important if, as seems likely, a new owner won't be able to take title and start renovations until at least next fall.

The deadline for RFP responses is 2:30 p.m. July 21, a fact that's highlighted and printed in bright blue ink in the city's Mizpah package. A city committee could recommend a winner in September, depending on the number of requests submitted, Michel said.

In addition to last year's interested parties, many of the developers who will receive copies are people whose names the city got from the SU experts who helped with ideas for the proposal, Michel said.

© 2005 The Post-Standard.

Home Up