SUNY Upstate acquires vacant apartment buildings

Harrison House

Upstate Medical University has acquired two vacant downtown Syracuse high-rises, which hospital officials say will bring dramatic development to downtown.

Upstate plans to transform the Townsend Tower and Harrison House into residences for students, medical residents and hospital staff. Hospital officials plan to invest upwards of $20 million to renovate every inch of the building's interiors. The exteriors of the buildings will be changed to be more energy efficient and reflect a more modern look.

Townsend Tower will be renovated first. That could begin by the end of 2010 with the hopes of finishing it in the fall of 2012.

Upstate acquired the buildings from the Empire State Development Corp., which held the mortgages on the properties.

"The acquisition of these properties is a key element in the creation of a west campus for Upstate Medical University," said Upstate President David R. Smith, M.D. "To fulfill our agenda of growth and provide greater opportunities for educating students in the health professions, conducting groundbreaking research and offering health care for a growing, aging patient population, we need the ability to stretch. These facilities, located in such close proximity to the center of our campus, provide us that opportunity."

There are hopes that as the area's largest employer, Upstate's investment in these properties can help transform downtown. "In addition to being a world-class medical institution, Upstate Medical University is an important economic driver for University Hill and the region," said David Mankiewicz, senior vice president for economic opportunity of CenterState Corp. "With this new investment, Upstate dramatically increases its impact on downtown Syracuse and serves as a catalyst for additional development and growth in the city."

The hope is that this could eventually have a trickle-down effect, helping to create more jobs, attract more people to the region and revitalize downtown.

Townsend Tower and Harrison House each have 200 units and were built in 1973. Over time, occupancy fell to less than 50 percent and both buildings were in need of significant repair. They have been vacant since January.