April 09, 2016
By Rick Moriarty
Syracuse, N.Y. — A historic apartment building that fell into disrepair and has been vacant for nine years is coming back to life thanks to four neighbors who grew tired of looking at the decaying structure.
The Huntley Building, which opened in 1928 at 407 Stolp Ave. in Syracuse's Greater Strathmore area, closed in 2007 after the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development foreclosed on the building and eight others owned by Eljay Redevelopment Co.
Its 42 apartments are scheduled to reopen to tenants April 15 following $2.6 million in renovations. An open house will be held at the Huntley from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today (April 9) and next Saturday (April 16).
"Our goal was to make this an asset to the neighborhood," John Lacey said. "We saw this was hurting the neighborhood. We wanted to make it an asset that would bring the neighborhood up."
Lacey and fellow Strathmore residents Margaret Carrillo-Sheridan, Brenda Colella and Garth Coviello bought the building from HUD for $1 in 2010.
At the time, water was leaking from the roof, ruining some of building's original hardwood flooring. Lacey said the surrounding neighborhood, known for having many long-time residents who took care of their homes, started to decline with it.
"The blight just extended from it," he said.
The four looked for an experienced developer willing to take on the project, but the building's condition and the fact that it had only 42 apartments made that impossible.
"They said they were not interested," Lacey said.
The four neighbors, all of whom live within a couple of blocks of the Huntley, decided to form their own development group, Huntley Strathmore Group LLC, and take on the task themselves.
Each possessed professional backgrounds they believed would serve the project well. Lacey is a public affairs counselor with a local advertising agency. Carrillo-Sheridan is an environmental engineer. Colella is an environmental attorney. Coviello is a patent attorney.
But with no previous development experience, obtaining financing was tough. After years of trying, they assembled a financing package that included a construction loan from the Community Preservation Corp., a $150,000 grant from Onondaga County and a $288,000 federal HOME Investment Partnerships Program grant allocated by the city. They also obtained 10 years of property tax discounts from the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency.
In addition, they succeeded in getting the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places because of a rare feature for an apartment building, especially one built in the early 20th century. It has a detached garage that was heated and was able to accommodate 40 cars in 1928. (The garage can now accommodate only 18 vehicles because cars are bigger now.)
The historic designation made the restoration eligible for state and federal tax credits that are helping to pay costs not covered by the bank loans, Lacey said.
"This was a really tough project," he said. "We spent six years putting it together."
The four-story Huntley was a high-end apartment building when it was built by Moses Hider, a developer from Binghamton who built several apartment buildings in Syracuse in the late 1920s.
Hider chose the location because of its access to a trolley line and the presence of Onondaga Park two blocks away.
Most of the building's apartments are large. All have living rooms and some have dining rooms, too. The building's H-shape and abundance of windows ensure that all of the apartments get lots of sunlight.
Hider named the building Asaranaba Apartments, but the name did not last long. He sold the building in 1929 to a local contractor, Frank W. Huntley, who renamed it after himself. A Syracuse Herald story on the sale described the building as "one of the most attractive and most complete in the city."
The building began falling into disrepair in the 1980s and 1990s, a time of major urban flight, and was finally shut down by HUD after a series of failed inspections and late mortgage payments.
The restoration project has maintained many of The Huntley's historical features.
The lobby's original coved ceiling with boxed beams and stenciling has been restored. It had been covered up years ago by a drop ceiling.
Wood paneling that was added at some point to the lobby's walls has also been removed. Unfortunately, the original marble wainscoting that adorned the lobby's walls is missing and was too expensive to replace, Lacey said. However, the lobby's basket-weave red and white tile floor remains and a nearby stairwell still has its original marble wainscoting.
The apartments still feature cast iron Majestic Co. milk and package receiver doors, though they are now sealed shut. The doors allowed the delivery of milk, groceries and other parcels through openings from the public hallways.
Original hardwood floors in hallways and apartments have been refinished. Some planks damaged by water had to be replaced. Most of the building's original windows remain, though many required some restoration.
The building's original light fixtures are long gone but have been replaced with new ones that resemble those typical of the 1920s. The Huntley's electrical and plumbing systems have been upgraded. A new boiler and water heaters provide plenty of steam heat and hot water.
Kitchens have new, stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. To give the units a more modern and open feel, pass-through openings have been cut in the walls that separate the kitchens from the living rooms or, in the larger apartments, the dining rooms.
Lacey said he expects the Huntley to attract long-time Strathmore area residents who are looking to downsize but want to stay in the neighborhood.
Even before the building reopens, the project has had a positive effect on the neighborhood, he said.
"We've already seen people investing in properties around it," he said.
Four of the 42 apartments are being reserved for low- and moderate-income residents, but the rest are market rate.
Rents include cable television, high-speed Internet, heat and hot water, and varies by unit size and floor:
- Studios (308 square feet): $550 to $575.
- One-bedrooms (440 to 697 square feet): $604 to $871
- Two-bedrooms (697 – 946 square feet): $801 to $1,135
- Three-bedrooms (972 to 1,075 square feet): $1,069 to $1,290
Tenants pay for electricity. Reserved parking in the garage is $50 extra a month.
A shared laundry room is equipped with coin-operated washers and dryers.