Public Affairs, Communications & Sustainable Development

Onondaga Commons expansion project includes two acquisitions

September 02, 2013 at 11:57 AM

 SYRACUSE, NEW YORK — Onondaga Commons, LLC, the owner of the blue-colored, “L”-shaped building along West Onondaga St., has plans to expand the facility and has acquired two adjacent properties as part of the effort.

The overall project is referred to as the “Onondaga Commons Comprehensive Expansion,” says W. Michael Short, founder and CEO of Short Enterprises of Syracuse and the project’s lead developer.

“The project is building on the existing footprint of Onondaga Commons and adding two additional properties,” Short says.

Altogether, the redevelopment and renovation project, which has been in the planning stages since 2011, could total in excess of $4 million, he adds.

Martin Yenawine, then president of Eastern Ambulance in Syracuse, originally developed Onondaga Commons in 1988 as a home for health and human-service organizations.

Yenawine is now a principal with Onondaga Commons, LLC.

Current tenants at Onondaga Commons include the local office of Scottsdale, Ariz.–based Rural/Metro Corp., an ambulance-service company, along with Family Planning Services, Lean On Me Day Care Center, the office of Onondaga Commons, LLC, and the Dr. William A. Harris Health Center.

The expansion project includes plans to develop two adjacent, vacant properties, including the former Triple-A building at 506 W. Onondaga St. and the GAR Building at 414-416 W. Onondaga St. 

It also includes what Short called “the largest green-infrastructure project privately pursued” under Onondaga County’s “Save the Rain” Program with $1 million in funding from the county.

GAR Building

Onondaga Commons, LLC acquired the 18,000-square-foot GAR Building at 414-416 W. Onondaga St. from the Second Olivet Missionary Baptist Church at the beginning of 2012, Short says. The church wasn’t able to financially maintain the building.

“The power was turned off and it became vacant,” Short says, noting that vandals had stripped it of copper and “trashed” the interior.

Short estimates the GAR Building needs about $250,000 in asbestos and environmental remediation and abatement work. That work is necessary to complete the next step in the thought process.

“How do we redevelop this property in an efficient way that allows us to keep leases low, so that we can provide opportunities for small businesses and nonprofits to locate here without having exorbitant rents?,” Short wonders.

AECC Environmental Consulting of DeWitt will handle the environmental remediation. Onondaga Commons is finalizing a schedule for the asbestos abatement and demolition work.

It concludes a year of efforts in developing plans for the building and pursuing a grant for up to $247,000 from National Grid’s Brownfield Redevelopment Program for the abatement project, Short says. 

The total redevelopment of the GAR Building will cost more than $2 million, and once completed, the GAR Building will be part of Onondaga Commons, he adds.  

Over the last year, Onondaga Commons has been in negotiations with a number of potential tenants.

“Considering the state of the building, it’s hard to have them come in to the building and be able to see a vision for it,” Short says.

Plans call for reconfiguring a portion of the existing Onondaga Commons building and “opening up” the campus to face a nearby school.  The improvement work will also involve some improvements at the Lean on Me Day Care with a new playground outside, Short says.

Former Triple-A Building

Onondaga Commons, LLC acquired the former Triple-A building at 506 W. Onondaga St., a 15,000 square-foot structure from the city of Syracuse, which had seized the building for the $50,000 back taxes it owed.

Onondaga Commons acquired the building earlier this summer, Short says.

Attorneys for Onondaga Commons worked to make certain the IRS liens and other liens were settled so the title for the property was clear of any issues, Short says.

The city of Syracuse is “not allowed to sell the property for any less than the assessed value at that time,” Short says. That value matched the amount of taxes that were owed on the structure, he added.

Plans call for developing the building for entrepreneurs-in-residence.

“We’ll have three or four of them,” Short says.

It’ll provide shared co-working incubator space on the first floor and basement.

Improvement work at the former Triple-A building will include AECC performing asbestos-remediation work, but the overall structure is in “good shape,” according to Short.

The redevelopment cost is about $250,000, he adds, which includes the site development and parking spaces.

The remediation work will begin once the project budget finalized in early September, he says. Onondaga Commons is hoping to have the building ready for occupancy by the spring or summer 2014. 

Short would also like to include a business incubator in the former Triple-A building at 506 W. Onondaga St., which could also expand into the GAR Building, he says.

The improvement work could also impact the property’s most publicly visible tenant.

Even though Scottsdale, Ariz.–based Rural/Metro Corp. has filed for bankruptcy protection, Onondaga Commons is planning on having the ambulance-service provider as a tenant for a while to come. 

“There has been talk of some additional redevelopment of this structure to expand their square footage to 36,000 square feet here in Building 1 of Onondaga Commons,” Short says.

That would be a more than $1 million redevelopment project.

The green-infrastructure work at 422 through 428 W. Onondaga St. begins during the first week of September and includes a portion of Slocum Avenue lots on the perimeter of the property.

It’ll involve repaving with porous material, new plantings, and rain gardens, Short says. When completely installed, the improvements will result in the harvesting six to 10 million gallons of water annually.

The Onondaga County’s Save the Rain program is a “stormwater-management plan intended to reduce pollution to Onondaga Lake and its tributaries,” according to its website.


Onondaga Commons is in discussions with Watertown Savings Bank to secure a loan for the expansion project.  

“They are willing to come to the table on the GAR building, once it’s free and clear of any contamination,” Short says.

Aubertine and Currier Architects, Engineers & Land Surveyors, PLLC of Watertown is serving as the architect on the project. Manny Barbas, who spent 36 years organizing and administering capital projects for Onondaga County, is serving as an independent consultant on the project. 

Short refers to Barbas as “an all star.”

He also credits the work of Kyle Thomas of Natural Systems Engineering, PLLC of Syracuse, calling him a “critical partner.” 

Thomas worked with Short and Onondaga County to develop a plan to redirect six to 10 million gallons of water away from the combined sewer system.

Daly Co., Inc. of Sackets Harbor is helping with the green-infrastructure installations.

“They’re handling the construction of that,” Short says, noting they’ll be using local subcontractors for the project. 

A contractor for the construction work beyond the green-infrastructure project has “yet to be identified,” Short says.

When asked why a bank and architecture firm from Watertown and a contractor from Sacketts Harbor are involved, Short noted that Martin Yenawine lives on Wellesley Island in the Thousand Islands region.

lifelong friends

Short has known Yenawine since age 5, calling him a “mentor” and a close family friend.

“He helped me write my graduation speech for high school,” he says.

Short Enterprises is currently located in the Lincoln Building at 109 Otisco St. in Syracuse, but Short intends to move the business into Onondaga Commons at some point in the future.   

Besides Short, the firm’s lone full-time employee, Short Enterprises also employs two part-time workers and two contract employees.

Founded in 2011, Short Enterprises is an economic strategy and development firm specializing in strategic planning, site selection, community assessments, and organization building.

Short previously served as deputy director of the Near Westside Initiative at Syracuse University.


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