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New hope for Mitzpah Tower

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: New hope for Mitzpah Tower
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It's a building with an historic past, in search of a future. For years, the City of Syracuse has struggled to find a developer to give new life to Mizpah Tower on Columbus Circle. YNN's Bill Carey says after years of searching, the city says it may have finally found a new buyer.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- More than seven years ago, the city trumpeted the arrival of a group called Plan B Development, headed by a man named Ben Errez. The city had seized Mizpah Tower for back taxes and Errez would transform the building, they said, into a hotel, condominiums and commercial use. But then, nothing happened.

A little over five years ago, Errez returned to Mizpah claiming a recession and a tightened credit market had caused delays. Now, he said, he had funding commitments and was ready to move forward, starting with an overhaul of the building's 1,600 seat auditorium.

“While we work on a plan or finalize the plan for phase two, which is the towers. And we expect that to take approximately a year to a year-and-a-half,” Errez said in November of 2007.

But again, nothing happened.

City officials took pictures just a few months ago, showing nothing inside Mizpah Tower had changed.

Something else hasn't changed. Errez continues to ignore tax bills. They've gone unpaid since 2008. The city has been preparing to seize the building again, but wants a new owner lined up first. The project is a priority.

“Every year it continues to be vacant, it becomes that much more difficult to redevelop. It's exposed to the elements. We have been through and have a general sense of where its weak points are. But again, the longer it goes, the harder it is to get it redeveloped,” said Ben Walsh, City Deputy Director for Business Development.

Common councilors have now taken the first, tentative step toward a new project, appointing an appraiser to develop a fair price. Still to come are deliberations over just how much assistance the city will provide to make the project feasible.

“Clearly this project is going to need some kind of public support, so hopefully, when the project comes up, the council will be amenable to that and we can get some progress, finally, on this project,” Syracuse Common Councilor Khalid Bey said.

But councilors remember the excitement in 2005, the renewed hope in 2007 and the ultimate disappointment now. They say the lessons will be put to good use.

Bey said, “We have to make sure that the persons who acquire the property have the means to get the project done.”

The current owner of Mizpah Tower currently owes the city just over $100,000 in property taxes. Plan B Development had purchased the building for less than $30,000.

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