9:30am

Wed February 15, 2012
Urban Living

Walkability, new apartments draw residents to downtown Syracuse

The move to downtown Syracuse was three years in the making for Nicole Samolis. That’s how long it took her to convince her husband to forgo their home in the suburbs.

The couple lives in the newly renovated Dey’s Plaza. The building was once a large department store, and then failed as an office building.

But since it was converted to apartments a few years ago, there’s been a waiting list to get in. Samolis was sold on the place by its view of Syracuse landmarks like the county courthouse.

“Nicest housing in Syracuse”

“Empty nesters” - as folks like the Samolis’ are called since they no longer have any children living at home - make up just one demographic filling up downtown’s apartments.

The young professional crowd is also finding the area more attractive.

For people like 29-year-old Garrett Peterson, a desire to live in an urban setting was a big draw to downtown. The other:

“It’s pretty much the nicest housing in the Syracuse area, at least for rental communities,” he says of his Hanover Square apartment. “And almost all my friends live downtown and we all live within four or five blocks of each other.”

Peterson lives in an old office building upstairs from a restaurant. That’s become a popular formula for downtown buildings. The same type of mixed-use can be found in the city’s Armory Square section, where renovations in the ’90s sparked much of downtown’s revitalization.

With the apartments in Armory Square all full, downtown is starting to gain momentum as developers find new buildings to flip.

As they do, downtown’s population continues to increase, up a quarter over the past decade, according to the Downtown Committee, a booster organization for the central core.

About 2,700 people fill downtown’s 913 units, for a 99 percent occupancy rate, according to the Downtown Committee’s math [PDF].

One thing missing

The Samolis’ both work downtown, so they were already there a lot. Now they enjoy not having to drive home after a night out.

“It’s just so much easier when you can just walk back home,” she says.

But they can’t walk everywhere. There’s still one big thing missing from downtown Syracuse: a grocery store.

A small market opened and closed a few years ago. Another pair of developers are working to open a small market, but it’s taking longer than they hoped.

Gas station convenience stores fill the void between trips out to Wegmans in the suburbs for Peterson.

As for Samolis, she just picks up a menu when her refrigerator is empty.

“You have all of downtown ready to serve you. I had a great deck [in the suburbs], but no one was bringing me food and wine on my deck. Here they do,” she says with a big laugh.

Developers say downtown’s population will need to roughly double before a traditional grocery store is attracted to the area.