A second-chance corner on the Near West Side
Kerry Quaglia stepped carefully over the freshly installed plumbing pipes snaking along the floor. Sunlight blazed into the second floor as he opened the door to the fire escape, beckoning me onto the platform. We paused for a moment to take in the view: Lipe Park’s new art installations straight ahead, downtown Syracuse hazy in the background, and the Carrier Dome gleaming off to our right. “Not a bad view,” said Quaglia.
Quaglia is the Chief Executive Officer at Home Headquarters, a nonprofit community development organization that has been rehabilitating residences across Syracuse since 1996. This project on the corner of W Fayette and Geddes St on the city’s Near West Side, however, marks a change for the organization.
1022 W Fayette St is Home Headquarter’s first-ever mixed-use development: the building’s first floor will support a commercial enterprise, and the second floor will be home to three one-bedroom apartments (complete with great views from the fire escape).
It’s a leap of faith for the organization and for the city’s Near West Side.
1022 W Fayette St was all but abandoned when Home Headquarters purchased it in early January of 2016. By that point, Home Headquarters had been engaging in residential development in the Near West Side for over eight years: offering home improvement loans to residents, buying and repairing run-down properties, and constructing new buildings. The organization’s bottom line was, and remains, to rekindle a sense of community on the Near West Side.
Home Headquarters recognized that Fayette St was an integral part of its broader neighborhood revitalization plan. The Fayette corridor has long been neglected and avoided by pedestrians, viewed as a dangerous thoroughfare instead of a thriving extension of the city.
That began to change when Rick Destito purchased the former Lipe Brown Gear Factory, kitty-corner to Home Headquarters’ current project on W Fayette St. Destito oversaw the Gear Factory’s radical transformation from an abandoned warehouse into a gleaming arts space and residential property. He sought out Home Headquarters’ support at an uncertain time during Gear Factory’s development, and Home Headquarters issued its first ever commercial loan to help Destito complete construction.
The Gear Factory entrance across the street from 1022 W Fayette.
Today, Gear Factory looks like something you’d see while strolling around Manhattan. Cars pull over to awe at the building. People wander over from nearby Lipe Park, which received an aesthetic boost last summer through new landscaping and art installations. Life is slowly returning to the Fayette Corridor, and Quaglia is determined to capitalize on it. “It’s all about that corner,” he says.
Home Headquarters believes that strategic property investment, such as the Fayette/Geddes corner, can catalyze change in run-down neighborhoods: transforming them into thriving communities where people want to buy homes, raise families, and support a local economy.
When completed, 1022 W Fayette Street will feature a restaurant on the first floor and three single apartments upstairs.“We knew all along that the property leant itself best to mixed use,” says Crystal Cosentino, the deputy executive director at Home Headquarters. “What took a little longer was figuring out what type of residential housing would we do on the second floor.”
The apartment’s functionally small size makes them ideal for young professionals just starting out on their own. Cosentino explained that the organization will own and rent the three units at affordable rates, marketing them to individuals that make under 80% of the city’s median income. A typical tenant could be a young twentysomething making roughly $35,000 a year.
Ponchito’s Tacqueria is opening on the building’s first floor. Ponchito’s, a made-to-order Latin American restaurant, already boasts two successful locations in Syracuse. Ponchito, the restaurant’s owner and founder, plans to invest about $60,000 into the kitchen and dining room. He’s also pledged to hire staff from the Near West Side, an important ingredient in Home Headquarters’ vision of bolstering the local economy.
1022 W Fayette St has encouraged Home Headquarters to consider similar mixed use and commercial ventures in other Syracuse neighborhoods. They bought the former B&B Lodge on South Ave, and are hoping to partner with a local entrepreneur to bring in a catering and commercial food prep operation. They’re also looking at working with business-minded individuals on the city’s North Side.
“While we want to cluster our impact, we also want to make sure that other communities don’t feel forgotten”, says Cosentino.
Mixing business with benevolent development has proven beneficial in communities across the country. The Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) in St. Paul, Minnesota, is considered one of the nation’s leaders in marrying economic development with infrastructure investment at the neighborhood scale.
Quaglia says that Home Headquarters is trying to emulate some of NDC’s projects and principles in Syracuse. The overall goal, he says, is to foster wealth creation in neighborhoods with entrenched poverty — often accomplished by supporting burgeoning entrepreneurs with their real estate needs, or enticing businesses to open up shop in a new area.
Home Headquarter’s role in supporting neighborhood development has evolved over time. The organization has acted at times as Syracuse’s informal land bank, owning as many as 389 units across Syracuse at its peak. The organization built out its own construction and realty divisions as it engaged in more property development, and opened a specialized homeownership counseling center across the street from its main offices.
Cosentino emphasized the importance of building ‘financial fitness’ among first-time home owners and low-income renters. As Home Headquarters works to increase home ownership rates on the Near West Side, it is essential that potential homeowners understand the nuances of loans, mortgages, and credit so that they can fully settle into their new homes. “It’s not simply a question of if you build it, they will come,” says Cosentino.
Home Headquarters has primarily worked in Onondaga County, but played a vital role in the Orchard Street project in Auburn, NY in the early 2000s. Cosentino hopes to work on similar projects with community partners in Auburn in the future.
1022 W Fayette St will likely open for business this coming fall. While the organization has devoted substantial and resources to the project, Quaglia is quick to mention that Home Headquarters owns over 140 units across the Near West Side, with the intention to rehabilitate and rent or sell. They’ve also issued hundreds of home improvement ‘mini-grants’ to locals interested in cleaning up their properties. “We’re trying to rejuvenate an entire neighborhood, not just one street,” says Quaglia. It’s clear that Home Headquarters is here for the long haul.