Food co-op and ‘brain education center’ planned for once-bustling Erie Canal-era block in Syracuse

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Syracuse, N.Y. — An Erie Canal-era building that still features an original section of the canal would contain a food co-op, a “brain education center” and other unconventional commercial space under a $6.1 million redevelopment proposal.

The building sits near the intersection of West Fayette Street and Erie Boulevard West on the city’s Far Westside. It was built in 1874 by the Gere family and believed to be used initially as an Erie Canal warehouse. At the time, the property was part of the village of Geddes and the Erie Canal ran behind it.

The village was annexed by the city of Syracuse in 1886 and the canal was filled in in the 1920s, becoming Erie Boulevard. A portion of the original canal wall, partially hidden by foliage, remains in the rear of the property, serving as a retaining wall.

Originally known as the Gere Block, the building and surrounding area were once a hub of commerce. Adjoining properties held coal yards, salt sheds, a lumber yard and a planing mill, according to the Onondaga Historical Association.

Gere Block building circa 1913

The Gere Block building at 1970 W. Fayette St. in Syracuse circa 1913, when it was occupied by the Sanford Motor Truck Co., a maker of fire trucks.Onondaga Historical Association

The building was occupied by the Sanford Motor Truck Co., a maker of fire trucks, from 1913 to 1937, and then by Strathmore Paints, a paint manufacturer, from 1942 until 2018. It’s been vacant since Strathmore left.

“This was once referred to as downtown Geddes,” said Scott Dumas, CEO of Papyrus Business Solutions and a partner in the redevelopment project.

In recent decades, the area has served less as a commerce hub and more as a pass-through for traffic traveling between the city and the nearby village of Solvay.

“This section of town has been kind of forgotten,” said Dumas.

But a newly created business entity, 1970 W. Fayette LLC, wants to bring the building back to life as a commerce hub.

Dumas said plans are to renovate the structure and put two anchor tenants in it.

He said the first floor would be occupied by a food cooperative run by EDEN Fresh Network, whose founders are Cornell University neuroscience professors Adam Anderson and Eve DeRosa, who are also partners in the project. The co-op would operate a grocery store and food wholesale business featuring foods grown on local farms, he said.

“This is not going to be a candy store,” Dumas said. “This is going to be healthier foods.”

Gere Block building

The Gere Block building at 1970 W. Fayette St. in Syracuse was built in 1874 and is believed to have been used initially as an Erie Canal warehouse. Rick Moriarty | [email protected]

The second floor would be occupied by a “brain education center,” a not-for-profit educational center designed to educate students about the functions of the brain, he said. The center would be funded by a grant from Cornell University and run by Anderson and DeRosa, according to Dumas.

Other tenants are to include a restaurant with covered outdoor seating, co-working space, a video game designer, a hair salon, and a service and entertainment business, he said.

Dumas said a metal shed added by Sanford Motor Truck Co. to the front of the building will be moved to the back of the property to create a covered patio for outdoor dining. The relocation of the shed will also help return the building to its late 1800s-early 1900s appearance, he said.

The development group plans to name the building Gere Block 27, combining its original name (which still appears on the front of the structure), and the street block number that appears on old city maps.

Erie Canal wall

This original section of the Erie Canal wall now serves as a retaining wall behind the Gere Block building (also known at times as the Sanford Motor Truck Co. and the Strathmore Paints building) at 1970 W. Fayette St. in Syracuse.Rick Moriarty | [email protected]

The group has applied to the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency for tax incentives consisting of a state mortgage tax exemption valued at $33,750, an exemption valued at $293,519 from sales taxes on construction materials, and property tax discounts via a 10-year payment-in-lieu of tax agreement, the value of which has not yet been determined.

Dumas said the tax incentives will help make the project financially feasible.

“It’s a very challenging building, but we see a lot of potential,” he said.

Rick Moriarty covers business news and consumer issues. Got a tip, comment or story idea? Contact him anytime: Email | Twitter | Facebook | 315-470-3148



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