Looking Back & Looking Ahead: How Historic Buildings Are Transforming Upstate City Centers

Historic buildings are the latest trend in city center revitalization. Restoration and adaptive reuse are giving many long neglected urban architectural treasures a second life, while adding hundreds of construction-related jobs to local economies. And for three cities in Upstate New York —Rochester in the Finger Lakes, Syracuse in Central New York and greater Binghamton in the Southern Tier— these efforts aren’t just a celebration of the past; they’re an ingenious investment in the future, as downtowns reclaim their place as centers of innovation and energy.

Rochester’s Sibley Square in the Heart of the DIZ

Rochester’s emerging Downtown Innovation Zone aka “The DIZ” is defined by the classic and beautiful Sibley Square. Built in 1906 to house the largest department store between New York and Chicago, Sibley Square was re-envisioned as a mixed-use residential, office and retail center. A Class-A, LEED-certified renovation includes 96 residential units, 72 units of senior housing, a Wi-Fi cafe, retail space and the High Tech Rochester business incubator.

The Sibley Building was always popular with locals, making it a natural candidate for adaptive reuse. Gilbert Winn, CEO of WinnCompanies, the developer leading the project, says his firm was drawn to the building’s architectural integrity and reputation among residents who remember meeting family and friends “under the clock.”

New York State is helping to make the $100 million mixed-use plan a reality. The development aims to bring together a mix of residents and workers in a newly vibrant downtown setting.

With the University of Rochester’s High Tech Rochester incubator, a lifeline for area startups, purchasing new headquarters space on the 6th floor, Sibley Square is becoming a tech-centered destination in the heart of the DIZ.


Welcome Back, Hotel Syracuse!

The Hotel Syracuse has been restored and transformed into the 21st Century Marriott Syracuse Downtown.  Once host to presidents, rock stars—and to countless weddings and conferences—the hotel had closed in 2004. A decade later, a local developer saw the potential of this Jazz Age landmark and, with support from New York State funding, chose to restore the property instead of building a new convention center hotel on the site.

The lobby’s chandeliers, classic carved moldings and historic mural offer a dramatic entry to the new space, with more than 261 rooms, ballrooms and restaurants. The mural had been dulled by decades of tobacco smoke and coal dust and was restored to its original condition behind the front desk. A ballroom, featuring the original ceiling sky mural, marble pillars and wrought iron interior balconies, remains one of the area’s most sought after wedding locations.


From A Shoe Factory to A School of Nursing

Johnson City is among upstate New York’s most recent and creative efforts: the transformation of a century-old former shoe factory into the new home of Binghamton University’s Decker School of Nursing.

At the height of its production, the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company produced some 52 million shoes annually and employed more than 20,000 people at its facilities across Endicott, Johnson City and Binghamton. Now, the company’s long-vacant shoe and carton factory will house the nursing school, as part of the university’s Health Science and Technology Innovation Park and new School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. The project is a major component of the Southern Tier Soaring revitalization plan, an ambitious next chapter in the area’s emerging healthcare economy and one that will have a lasting impact on the region. 

In 2016, Governor Cuomo announced the $105 million investment that will relocate and expand Binghamton’s well-regarded nursing school. During a site dedication ceremony last fall with Binghamton President Harvey Stenger, Governor Cuomo noted that Southern Tier Soaring is helping in the area’s transition to an innovation economy.

“Shoes moved out. Who moves in?” he asked. The region’s blueprint for generating economic growth, including adaptive reuse, is answering that question, reopening the former shoe factory "as a nursing school teaching a new generation and creating synergy with the pharmacy school and hospitals.” 

These are just three of the many revitalization and restoration efforts within the region that are helping the Southern Tier soar to new heights.