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Upstate plans for west campus take shape


SYRACUSE, N.Y. — In a move that will bring dramatic development to downtown Syracuse, Upstate Medical University has acquired two vacant downtown high-rises—Townsend Tower and Harrison House—as part of the university's plans to develop a west campus and offer additional housing opportunities for its students, medical residents and hospital staff.

Upstate says it will invest upwards of $20 million to renovate every inch of the buildings' interiors. The buildings' exteriors also will be changed to provide a more modern look and greater energy efficiency. The cost includes significant asbestos abatement work. Townsend Tower will be renovated first. Renovations could start by the end of 2010 and be finished in time for occupancy by fall 2012.

"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 healthcare 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."

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner applauded the development. "These high-rise buildings failed as experiments in affordable housing for low-income residents and that is why the city has supported the transfer to Upstate for a new use. We will continue to work with the administration of Upstate so the region's largest employer can extend its campus across the barrier of Route 81 and develop in downtown Syracuse."

David Mankiewicz, senior vice president for economic opportunity of CenterState Corp., said the development spoke to Upstate's economic influence in the area. "In addition to being a world-class medical institution, Upstate Medical University is an important economic driver for University Hill and the region," he said. "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."

"Upstate Medical University has been an engine of opportunity for students, workers and the Greater Syracuse community," said Empire State Development Chairman and CEO Dennis M. Mullen. "This transfer of property will provide space for Upstate's expansion and facilitate its continued investment in Syracuse. Gov. Paterson and I fully support Upstate's efforts to bolster New York state's knowledge-based economy, as it will provide good jobs, attract more people to the region and revitalize the city's 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.

Upstate's only residence hall is Clark Tower, which provides accommodations for 190 students. Upstate's total enrollment is 1,400 students. The addition of Townsend and Harrison will provide housing for at least 400 students, medical residents and hospital staff.

"We're delighted to be able to provide additional accommodations for our students," said Julie R. White, Ph.D., Upstate's dean of student affairs. "In such close proximity to our campus, these facilities will not only be convenient for our students, they will also allow us to provide additional services and amenities to best meet students' needs."

The buildings are adjacent to two chief settings for Upstate's outpatient clinics. Townsend Towers is located at the 500 Harrison St., on the corner of Townsend and Harrison streets, next door to the medical facility at 550 Harrison St., and across the street from University Health Care Center (UHCC). Harrison House is located in the Presidential Plaza complex off Townsend Street, a stone's throw from UHCC.

A byproduct of Upstate's acquisition of the properties is economic development, Smith said. "Growth equals economic development and jobs," he said. "We hope our significant investment in this area, will encourage others to take a look at this area of downtown Syracuse for development."

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

The acquisition of the buildings was made by the Upstate Property Development Corp. (UPDC), a private development entity under the umbrella of the Upstate Foundation. UPDC was created by Upstate in 2007 to facilitate the purchase of the former Four Winds Psychiatric Center on South Salina Street, which is now the Sarah Loguen Center, housing the Upstate Child Care Center.

Acquiring the properties through UPDC means the properties will be private and renovated and managed as private entities. It also enables the university to move quickly with renovation plans and makes it possible to award all construction contracts to local firms.

"We need to respond more and more like a private institution, especially in matters of real estate and development," Smith said. "Costs rise each year, so we need to respond to market forces quickly."

The addition of more student residences is included in the Upstate Initiative, Upstate's blueprint to expand and enhance the university's core missions of research, education and patient care as a way to address key issues in healthcare, such as shortages in the health professions and access to care. The initiative, announced in 2007, calls for a 30 percent growth in enrollment over the next 10 years.