Syracuse will seize troubled, vacant landmark property

Mar 5, 2013

Syracuse will formally commence the foreclosure process on a long vacant downtown church, aiming to turn the historic building into another part of a downtown residential boom.

The Common Council voted Monday to seize the former First Baptist Church, commonly known as Mizpah Tower, with the plan of selling it to a new developer.

This isn't the first time Syracuse has tried to see the nearly 100 year-old church become something more than just a vacant structure, which it's been for a quarter-century.

A postcard image of the Mizpah Tower in downtown Syracuse.
A postcard image of the Mizpah Tower in downtown Syracuse.
Credit Boston Public Library / via Flickr

There were once plans to convert the Mizpah into a performing arts space. Then in 2005 the city sold the building to its current owner, Syracuse Bangkok, LLC., who did nothing more than fall behind on the taxes to the tune of $115,000.

Attorney Thomas Cerio has offered Syracuse $31,150 for the building and pledged to convert the Mizpah into luxury apartments. The property is currently assessed at $550,000.

The old church has always had residential space above it. It's been vacant since The First Baptist congregation moved to the suburbs two decades ago. The building is located in the Cathedral Square section of downtown Syracuse.

Councilor Jean Kessener says the low asking price is more than worth the chance to have the building renovated.

"To make it available for around $30,000 for an individual who’s expressed an interest in it to see if he can make it work - and it’s an ‘if.’ But the other [option] wasn’t happening at all," Kessner says.

Kessner is a little skeptical this plan will work out, when the others didn't.

If Syracuse Bangkok LLC., pays up on its back taxes, the foreclosure process will be halted.

However, the city hasn't had contact with the owner since 2008.