Making Franklin Square a Developer's Success

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Dick Case, Post-Standard Columnist

Doug Sutherland jokes he's "made a career out of Franklin Square." We need to thank him for that.

Running at low profile, without many news releases or photo opportunities, our man's helped to transform a grimy factory district on the edge of downtown Syracuse into a gem of a city neighborhood.

Doug's been on the job at Franklin, Plum and Solar streets since 1987, when Pyramid Cos. hired him from a developer in Harrisburg, Pa., to manage a project in Syracuse.

The project turned out to be inventing Franklin Square as the south anchor of the lakefront about to be developed. This was before Bob Congel and his partners shared the news of Carousel Center with us. Doug worked for Pyramid until five years ago, when he set up his own development company, Franklin Properties.

Now, he's well into his first project - rehabilitating the old O.M. Edwards factory on Plum Street for apartments, offices and shops. He's almost finished with the second, a like transformation of the old Bradley foundry on Franklin Street.

Meanwhile, the triangular neighborhood - bordered by Interstates 690 and 81 and Spencer Street at the north - changed before our eyes as we drove around the north edge of downtown toward Bob Congel's mall, which opened in 1990.

Doug and his helpers were working over the district two years before that. By the time we walked through Carousel Center for the first time, Franklin Square had been created with a tax abatement investment by Pyramid. We got newly paved streets and sidewalks, a park with a bronze statue of Ben Franklin and a Victorian fountain; trees, street lamps, mini-parks and utilities hidden under the ground.

Not to forget the start of a creek walk.

The first major work by Pyramid was to make over the huge and derelict New Process Gear building as the stunning new office building we call Bridgewater Place. "The perfect billboard" for the neighborhood, according to Doug Sutherland.

The gear company, a partner of Chrysler when it left the city for DeWitt, had three plants in the square. All have been rescued.

The others are the 1910 Monarch Typewriter factory, a New Process Gear plant after 1915, now Mission Landing apartments; and the building at Plum and North Franklin, most recently a Hurbson furniture warehouse. That's being converted by Hueber-Breuer Construction Co. into Franklin Center office building.

The 1906 building used most of the century by O.M. Edwards is now Plum Court apartments, across the street from the old windows and doors factory.

Pyramid also raised a new senior apartment residence at Plum and Franklin where an ugly natural gas tank once stood. One Franklin Square rents 136 apartments.

The activity by Bob Congel and his partners brought in other developers. The Falcone family's Pioneer Cos. built two new office buildings on vacant land at the end of Division Street, including the one occupied by Unity Mutual Life, and rehabilitated the former Allen Tool plant across the creek.

Pioneer later brought in a developer for a new post office branch in the same lot, at the same time that the Border Co. was encouraged to improve its research center in the former Merrell-Soule factory (None-Such Mincemeat) on Franklin Park.

This week, we figure, about 200 citizens live in Franklin Square. About 2,000 work there. And they keep coming.

Doug Sutherland says he got comfortable with the idea of reusing architectural gems of the past after he restored an 1870s house, his first, in Harrisburg.

"If we do this well," he continued, "and don't lose sight of the history, we'll have a better neighborhood."

There's history to spare thereabouts. This is an area our ancestors called "The Bog" because it was a drainage field for the lake. Later, it held salt-drying sheds, and after the Barge Canal came to town, Oil City.

As the city's salt industry died at the turn of the 20th century, Franklin Square became a modest factory district, making everything from women's handbags, to textiles, to typewriters, to gears for cars and telephone booths and dried milk. Most of the plants were built just after 1900.

The West Shore Railroad had tracks and a yard there.

Doug had these images in his head as he moved into the projects of the last 16 years. When we walked the neighborhood the other day, he talked about all the "ghosts" of industry, some of them deliberately preserved.

For instance: the water tank on top of the tower behind Franklin Center; the reproduced truss bridge over the creek; the foundry chimney; the water pump hub from the salt works; the O.M. Edwards compressor that now decorates the north entrance to the building, along with the steps of limestone blocks on the Plum Street side of the factory.

I got a close look at another ghost in the lobby of what soon will be the offices of Testone, Marshall & Discenza accountants in the factory most recently used by Glomac Plastics. The building on North Franklin was built for C.C. Bradley & Sons, a company that started out in Syracuse making kettles to boil salt in. Three years ago, it was marked for demolition.

We check out a Bradley forging hammer made at the company's Cortland plant and once used at the blacksmith shop in the county highway garage at Jamesville. With help from W.F. Saunders in Nedrow, collector Ron Wolf and historian Dennis Connors at the Onondaga Historical Association, the orphaned giant is back on the Bradley floor. "We got it in 20 pieces," Doug is saying. "We cleaned it and put it back together. It looks neat out here."

He points two stories above our heads, to the old Bradley traveling crane that's been preserved as part of the project also.

Later, I see two of the 40 apartments ready to rent in the Edwards' west wing, aka The Lofts at Franklin Square. Fifty more will be ready in a year.

2004 The Post-Standard.

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