Student Housing: Vacant offices to house students

by Yelena Levina for Pipe Dream News

Binghamton University students who want to live Downtown in style can look no further than 20 Hawley St., a spot that will be renovated and converted into luxury student apartments.

The abandoned office building, which has been empty for more than a year, is a block away from the University Downtown Center, State Street, Binghamton City Hall and other major Broome County offices.

Construction is set to begin Friday on the new student housing complex, which will eventually include modern appliances, a gym, a study lounge on each floor, an underground parking garage and a movie screening room with stadium seating. Internet and utilities will be included in the rent price.

The interior of the building is in the process of being gutted one floor at a time to make room for 204 apartment units.

Developer Alan Weissman of Alfred Weissman Real Estate, Inc., said there will be a combination of single and hybrid units. In single units, one renter will be allotted a kitchen, a single bedroom and a bathroom. Hybrid units will have a shared common area and kitchen with three to five adjacent single bedrooms. Each room will have its own bathroom and card key lock.

“It’s the perfect location,” said Colin Walsh, a junior majoring in industrial engineering.

After viewing Facebook photos of the future apartments, he anticipates that 20 Hawley St. will have the best-looking student apartments in the tri-city area. Walsh plans to apply with his friends to live in the future apartments for the 2011 year.

“I think Binghamton needs a better standard in the entire city,” said Walsh, who added that he has had to deal with negligent landlords and broken-down living conditions in the past.

Weissman aims to correct many of the problems he has seen with other off-campus housing options in re-creating 20 Hawley St.

“I hear about students who are robbed when they are away,” said Weissman, of Rye, N.Y. The building will be secured with access cards, surveillance cameras and the police station across the street.

The new student housing will also not tolerate property damage from its tenants.

“It’ll be a pretty strict place to live,” Weissman said. “We’re not looking for students who want to rip the walls apart.”

Rent pricing for 20 Hawley St. has not been finalized. Weissman said the rates will be competitive with University Plaza and the Newman House, the construction which will be next to the University Downtown Center.

Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan’s office has aligned itself positively with the project by helping with its financing. The mayor’s office is anticipating a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes agreement with Weissman Real Estate, which will allow a real estate business to pay taxes in a way that speeds up the building progress.

But not everyone is as enthusiastic about the project.

Sal Farfaglia, a board member of the Broome County Landlord Association, said the project was unnecessary.

“There is already a glut of housing and now you wanna have more housing,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. It’s not healthy.”

Farfaglia is also worried that these kinds of deals benefit these projects to the detriment of smaller landlords.

Andrew Block, executive assistant to the mayor, believes that this new student housing development will be beneficial to the city. He called it a part of the revitalization of the Downtown area.

Block notes that housing more students Downtown will have positive effects on Downtown commerce and will be an incentive for new businesses to move into the area.

“The Downtown area is a dynamic community. Placing students within that community gives them the opportunity to live alongside non-students in an environment that is full of various services,” said Block, referring to the variety of restaurants, businesses, government offices and entertainment. “That has drawn others to the area and we feel it will draw students as well.”

He also said that the Newman House, the Midtown Mall, the West Side Neighborhood Project and the 20 Hawley St. development are the start of a trend that will ultimately benefit both the city and BU students.

“The Downtown area is coming alive in new ways,” Block said. “We anticipate that it will spur additional growth in the Downtown area for years to come.”

The apartments will fill up on a first-come, first-served basis by application, according to Weissman.

Construction crews from the local area as well as central New York will be employed for the project and construction is set to finish in August 2011.

A model room will be available for student viewing at the end of October.

[bupipedream.com]

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