Take This Bid on Mizpah


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Dick Case, Post-Standard Columnist

It's seven years this month that the city got to be landlord of the Mizpah/First Baptist Church in downtown Syracuse. The owners had dropped out of paying their property taxes after a failed try at redevelopment.

Five months later, someone stole 43 stained-glass window sections from the 90-year-old church in what looked like an "inside job." That was the start of lots of bad luck for the landmark.

Bottom line today: Despite plenty of talk and promises, the building sits there on Columbus Circle - forlorn, unheated, deteriorating and very much a challenge to the whole community.

Mayor Matt Driscoll agrees this is a civic gem that needs to be saved. What's he doing about it?

He devoted seven paragraphs to the Mizpah in his State of the City talk last week. He even mentioned the "request for proposals" fiasco that cost two city employees their jobs. Still, at the end, he reported "there simply weren't any qualified proposals on the table."

Mayor Matt says his people are in "exploration," trying to find a private developer who can succeed and preserve this important piece of city history: "After my administration has exhausted all possible leads, only then will we be issuing another request for proposals."

Alan Isserlis talked back to the mayor in Sunday's Post-Standard. Alan's put together a group of investors, including two heavy hitters from Atlanta, who propose a $20 million makeover for the Mizpah. Their program was thrown out on a technical error during the last round of proposals.

Amazingly, Alan and his partners say they're still standing; the offer is current and viable, even though the building continues to slip-slide away from us.

Alan took exception to the comment in the mayor's speech that he sees no proposals that qualify. He claims he has the financial backing and commitment to make it work.

It's time to fish or cut bait at the Mizpah.

Here's a developer with a hometown base willing to take this gray elephant off the city's hands, removing at least one embarrassing nondevelopment from the list of failures Mayor Matt's political opponents surely plan to use against him in the re-election campaign.

At this point, there's nothing about the Isserlis proposal that suggests taxpayers will be bailing out Alan five years down the road because he went belly up.

I have a suggestion for the mayor: Call Alan and arrange a meeting to hear what he has to say. Check out the plans, and his books. If this looks like a go, ask him to write the city a check for the down payment.

Who says we need another clumsy request for proposals?

Dick Case writes Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Reach him at 470-2254, or by e-mail, citynews@syracuse.com.

2005 The Post-Standard.