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
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
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
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,
"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
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
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
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,
© 2005 The Post-Standard.