In Search of Excellence
Dates: PIKE BLOCK IN THE NEWS
An underused office building becomes home to restaurants and apartments
By Charles McChesney
Perhaps the clearest view of Central New York’s future comes not by looking left or right, but by looking up. In Syracuse, the horizon is broken by lines of cranes. There are buildings going up and old buildings being rebuilt in a way that doesn’t simply update them, but rethinks their purposes. Consider the Pike Block, a $25 million project combining four downtown buildings into a facility that will be home to 78 apartments, two restaurants and four stores. ‘‘This had to happen,’’ said David C. Nutting, CEO and chairman of VIP Structures Inc., the company developing what had been four rundown properties where South Salina meets Fayette Street. On a damp winter day, Nutting leads a visitor through the gutted remains of the former Witherill Building, the Chamberlin Building, the Wilson Building and the Bond Building. A new central corridor and elevators will connect all four, creating what Nutting said will be ‘‘a community more than an apartment building.’’ Two courtyards— one for residents and one for people visiting retailers or restaurants— will link trendy Armory Square to the Pike Block and from there to South Salina Street, the city’s traditional commercial center.
Decades of damage can be seen on the parts of the buildings that remain. Smoke stains from a long-ago fire scar one wall, signs of water rot mark a ceiling. Whole sections of the buildings have been cut away and reframed with modern materials. ‘‘It’s been an interesting project,’’ Nutting said. ‘‘It’s three-to-one the most complex project we’ve ever done.’’
Half smiling, he added: ‘‘Had we known what we would ultimately find out, it’s questionable whether we would have gone on with this.’’ Amid the din of construction, Nutting climbs a dripping wet temporary stairway to a hallway and opens the door to a very different space. ‘‘We essentially built this to hotel standards instead of apartment standards,’’ Nutting said as he showed off a one-bedroom apartment slated to be rented for $1,150 a month. Windows cover nearly an entire wall, flooding the room with winter light even on a grimly gray day. There are granite counters and stainless steel appliances. The bedroom door slides to the side, like a barn door, and the bathroom features tiled walls and a soaking tub, far deeper than a conventional bathtub. ‘‘The soaking tub is a big deal,’’ Nutting said. Another big deal is the sound, or lack of it. The original plan, Nutting said, was to leave the 3-inch-thick wood floors exposed as the ceiling for the apartment below. But that allowed too much noise. Instead, the ceilings are white, and rubber bushings separate the ceiling from the floor above. Similar measures isolate the walls of each unit. The result: A quiet apartment in the middle of a construction site. It is the sort of project that could be built in New York or Boston for just about the same money, Nutting said, but rents here will be lower. That’s why the project needed government assistance: ‘‘We’re going to spend $25 million on it, and it will be worth $12 million the day we’re done.’’ A block east of Pike Block, work is under way at Merchants Commons, the renovation of what had once been a bank building. It, too, received government support and is bringing market-rate apartments to downtown — some 66 units. Merchants Common will also be home to Syracuse Media Group, the new company that produces syracuse. com and The Post-Standard. A block to the west of Nutting’s project, work continues at what will soon be The Inns at Armory Square. A block south is the former Sibley’s department store, slated to be rebuilt by developer Robert Doucette and his business partner in Paramount Realty Group, Richard deVito. Doucette plans an $18.7 million renovation to turn the 240,000-squarefoot building into 62,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and 60 market-rate apartments on the upper three floors. Sitting in the quiet, modern apartment, Nutting talked about the types of people who have been looking at renting in the Pike Block. There are young professionals, and there are older ‘‘empty nesters’’ looking to give up suburban homes. The transformation of the Pike Block has done more than combine old buildings into a single modern one, he said. ‘‘We watched Syracuse go from disbelief to belief,’’ he said. ‘‘All of a sudden there’s a bunch of believers.
Download a PDF