Progress or injustice? How Horace Jones lost the Markee Lounge In Syracuse

Jim Kenyon listens to Horace Jones

The 500 block of Oswego Street on Syracuse's west side is a neighborhood in transition with new homes and a health center nearby, but for years it was home to a well-known nightclub called the Markee Lounge.

It was owned by Horace Jones who contacted CNY Central's Jim Kenyon so he could speak out after years of frustration over how he lost his property on Oswego Street.

"They under-minded me. They'd tell me one thing... they'd do another," says Jones. "They", Jones claims, is the City of Syracuse.

His battle over the Markee Lounge goes back to 1985 and continued over three mayoral administrations. While it was in operation, police considered the Markee Lounge a neighborhood nuisance because it allegedly attracted crime. Eventually, Jones says the city shut it down.

He tried putting in other businesses including a barber shop, restaurant and a cell phone store, but Jones says he could never make a go of it and the back taxes began mounting. Horace says he couldn't work out an agreement with City Hall and at one point offered to sell the building to the city.

"They kept making me offers but they kept taking it off the table," says Jones.

Eventually Jones says an out-of-state collection company bought the property on a tax sale. Though he was paying them, Jones says that company sold the land back to the city which tore down the building. "I came down here and I see a big hole in the ground," says Jones.

Jones feels the city always intended to use unpaid taxes to take his property and he feels race may have played a role.

"I tried to work with them. It seemed like to me as being a black businessman and doing a black business... I couldn't get nothing done," says Jones.

In response, Alexander Marion, a spokesperson for Mayor Stephanie Miner, pointed out that much of what took place happened during prior administrations. Marion says the records show Jones owned $12,000 in back taxes dating back to 2003.

"The city tries to work with folks...but it does not appear he was willing to make the same effort on his part," says Alexander.

That part of Oswego Street is within the Westside Initiative. Alexander pointed out, "we're in the business of improving neighborhoods."

Horace thinks the Markee building did not fit into the city's plans to improve the neighborhood with new homes. On the lot where the Markee Lounge once stood, is a townhouse for low income families built by the Christopher Community, a charitable foundation.

Toni Moore, a resident in the neighborhood, says she feels lucky to live there. "Since I've lived here, I like it... it's peaceful. It's a nice neighborhood," she says.

Even though Jones may have lost his Markee Lounge to progress, he admits the city has vastly improved the neighborhood.