CNY Community Foundation Purchases Historic Downtown Building

April 1, 2009 (Syracuse, NY) – The Central New York Community Foundation has purchased the historic University Club building in downtown Syracuse, located at 431 East Fayette Street.  The building will serve as the Foundation’s permanent home and a hub for charitable collaboration.

Dubbed the CNY Philanthropy Center, the three-story Georgian Revival building will provide 7,000 square feet of Community Foundation office space and 2,200 square feet of meeting space, much of which will be open for public use. Another 9,000 square feet will be leased to local nonprofit partners. Move-in is planned for Fall of 2010.

A Place for Convening
Peter Dunn, the Community Foundation’s President and CEO, envisions the new space as a unique venue for unprecedented collaboration between the Community Foundation, private foundations and nonprofit organizations as well as business and community leaders.

“This space is another arrow in our quiver – a means by which we can amplify the impact of our grants by serving as a convener and collaborator with local nonprofit organizations, donors and community leaders,” Dunn said.

Renovation plans include turning the building’s old second-floor ballroom, now commercial offices, into a large convening space for events and creating board and meeting rooms in the Community Foundation’s offices on the first floor. These spaces will be used to hold donor and grantee meetings and events as well as provide a community space.

The leasable portion of the building unused by the Community Foundation will be made available to other philanthropic organizations who would like to rent out the space. Tenants will have full access to the meeting rooms.

A Permanent Home
The Community Foundation believes that the purchase of a permanent home will be a useful tool in heightening its visibility while also showing its long-term commitment to the community.

“We are sending a message that we are here forever,” said Dunn. “The Community Foundation is almost as old as this building and investing in a permanent downtown home demonstrates to our community, at a difficult economic time, that we are not going anywhere. The building speaks to the role of the Community Foundation as a positive force for change in the region. We hope that this building will remind people of who we are and what we do. In turn, we hope that our increased presence not only enhances our own visibility but of philanthropy in general – and motivates people to consider how they might join us in improving the community.”

Investing in Downtown
Overlooking historic Fayette Park and situated on the Connective Corridor between Syracuse University and downtown Syracuse, the Philanthropy Center is positioned to be part of downtown’s renaissance.

“The Community Foundation’s purchase and move into this building is a welcome addition to the Downtown East district,” said Merike Treier, deputy director of the Downtown Committee of Syracuse.  “Investments such as this show a permanent commitment to the future of our downtown and are what help to re-establish the urban core as the hub of commercial, social and cultural activity in the region.”

A Long, Storied History
The University Club of Syracuse, a private social society, built and moved into the building in 1917. Tucked between the Hayden Hotel and the Wolcott Restaurant & Tea Room, the pillared and gracious building provided members with a new headquarters where they could meet in comfortable privacy. The building featured a bar, dining room, ballroom, library and dormitory rooms that could be used by visiting businessmen. In 1930, an addition added handball and squash courts, a gymnasium and a steam room.

In its prime, the University Club often held three or four special events a week. Events included prominent political or academic speakers, business networking get-togethers, stag parties, collegiate sports after-parties and many more. The Club drew its share of celebrity visitors over the years including Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Woodrow Wilson and Richard Nixon.

“The University Club was the site of many community gatherings so it is particularly appropriate that it will now house a foundation that has its own history of supporting our community in so many important and essential ways, said Gregg Tripoli, Onondaga Historical Association executive director.  “The renovation and restoration of this architecturally beautiful local landmark by the Central New York Community Foundation is, indeed, another worthy contribution by this great organization to our city and to our local history.”

Facing a decline in membership and changing demographic trends, the club admitted women as full members for the first time in 1980. Facing financial troubles in 1986, the University Club reluctantly moved out of its home of over 70 years in favor of a smaller, modern location in Clinton Square. The Club ultimately dissolved in 1990.

After being owned briefly by Green & Seifter, Skaneateles Savings Bank purchased the building in December 1987. The first floor was converted into a full-service bank. Renovations of the building included the construction of a drive-up window, elevator and handicap accessibility. After renovations were complete, Skaneateles Savings Bank occupied half of the building and rented the rest to commercial clients. Most of the historic elements that characterized the interior of the building were removed during renovation to create new commercial space. The bank changed hands various times over the next twenty years.

In December 2007, M&T Bank took ownership of the building through its purchase of Partners Trust Bank. M&T consolidated many of its Onondaga County branches and soon put the University Club building up for sale.

With a purchase price of $1 million, Dunn sees the move as a vital investment in downtown. “A strong central city means that the region will be much stronger over a sustained period of time,” said Dunn. “The re-use of an underutilized historic building is important to the strength of downtown and the sustainability of our community.”

Future Plans
Building renovations are expected to take about eighteen months to complete. The Community Foundation expects to move into the building in late 2010. Outdoor construction projects will include roof replacement, new exterior windows and brickwork. A reception area and Community Foundation offices will be constructed on the first floor. The second floor will be split between tenant and convening space. The entire third floor will be available to tenants. The basement, a former bank check clearing and call center, may also be used as future nonprofit tenant space.

Once construction gets underway this summer, the public will be able to follow the progress toward full renovation via a blog on a dedicated website –

The Central New York Community Foundation connects the generosity of donors with community needs by making grants to organizations working to enhance the quality of life of those who live and work in Central New York. The region’s largest local philanthropic endowment, the Community Foundation is annually makes more than $5 million in grants and provides leadership support in the fields of arts and culture, community and economic development, education, environment, health and human services. Founded in 1927, the Community Foundation strives to inspire and expand philanthropy in Central New York.

To view historic and current photos of the building, read an extended building history and subscribe to a blog for construction updates, visit

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