CAZENOVIA — “37 Albany Street,” a significant multi-use property in downtown Cazenovia, was recently listed for sale and lease with the Syracuse real estate firm JWP Commercial.
Owned by Cazenovia resident, former real estate developer, Bob Hood, the property consists of a sizeable block of interconnected buildings on the corner of Albany and Sullivan Streets and a separate 24-space private parking lot off Wall Street. The property also has public parking adjacent to the front entrance facing Albany Street.
The property’s current tenants are Dave’s Diner, Purpose Coffee, Cazenovia Artisans, the Les Pâtes et Les Nouilles Thai restaurant, and Cazenovia College.
For around two decades, Cazenovia College has been leasing the recently closed college bookstore and copy shop spaces; 40 elevator-accessible student dormitory rooms on the second and third floors; meeting rooms; and the space now occupied by the Thai restaurant, which the college subleased to the owners.
A hallway connects the bookstore to the diner and to an open space behind the Thai restaurant that Hood designed as a community room, seating 100 people and featuring a large roll-down screen, a ceiling-mounted projector, a sound system, and restrooms. The bookstore, copy shop, and dorms are all accessible through a single main entrance on Sullivan Street. Cazenovia Artisans and the Thai restaurant also share an entryway.
“The whole space was built [for Cazenovia College] as an interconnected community space,” said Hood.
Cazenovia College is scheduled to officially close on June 30, 2023, and, according to Hood, the Thai restaurant is also planning to vacate the property.
“The college is going to give me the keys back in less than two weeks,” Hood said on May 15.
Therefore, all the spaces leased to the college are now available for immediate use and/or redevelopment.
According to a marketing brochure prepared by JWP Commercial, the property’s B-1 General Business District zoning allows for multiple redevelopment options, including retail business, office, restaurant, motel/hotel, indoor recreation, community center, and club facilities. Specially permitted uses include banks, medical centers/clinics, hospitals/related uses, residential, and animal daycare facilities.
Dave’s Diner, Purpose Coffee, and Cazenovia Artisans will continue to operate in their current locations, regardless of what happens with the vacant spaces and regardless of whether the property’s ownership changes hands.
“The building might sell, but that wouldn’t terminate any of the leases,” said Joshua Podkaminer, managing member and principal broker of JWP Commercial. “All those operating leases would continue with the building whether Bob was the owner or whether there was a new owner.”
At this point, Hood is hoping to secure a new tenant for the restaurant and to find new uses for the remaining vacant space that support the property’s primary purpose of cultivating community and serving the needs of the local population.
Hood described converting the vacant space into apartments as his “last resort.”
“In addition to the 10,000 square feet of commercial space that the college has vacated, I have 40 dormitory rooms to re-purpose for new use,” Hood said. “While I can [easily] redevelop the dorm rooms into village apartments with parking, I first want to determine if there is a use for the dorm rooms that will be of benefit to our village.”
One of the options being explored, according to Hood, is using the dorms as week-long or multi-week accommodations for visiting artists or other individuals and groups that are in town taking advantage of Cazenovia’s many cultural resources.
“If I convert those to apartments, that whole opportunity of bringing people into the community [is lost],” Hood said.
Hood also said he hopes to use the room behind the Thai restaurant as a not-for-profit space to be used for community-focused events and activities.
If he is unable to find users for the vacant spaces, Hood intends to sell his entire block as one offering.
“Bob has got his heart right there in the village, so he wants to see something that would be a positive contribution to the [community],” said Podkaminer.
At the heart of the “37 Albany Street” property is “Common Grounds,” a building at 35 Albany St. that now houses Purpose Coffee, Dave’s Diner, and Carter’s Creamery, a division of Dave’s Diner.
Hood, who sold his successful real estate development company to his employees in 1996 to pursue volunteer service opportunities, originally developed the building over two decades ago as a community gathering place.
Common Grounds was the vision of a group of Cazenovia High School (CHS) students in the mid-1990s who were interested in establishing a drug- and alcohol-free place for the entire community, including teens, to gather and enjoy art, music, poetry, discussion, and more.
Working with CHS History Teacher Kurt Wheeler, the students determined that a coffeehouse would be the optimal setting for their planned activities. They called their vision Project CAFÉ (Community Activities for Everyone).
The group was established in 1995 and incorporated as a non-profit in 1998.
After learning about the students’ idea, Hood purchased and renovated the building at 35 Albany St. to provide a home for Project CAFÉ and to create a multi-use community gathering space.
“We ran a contest to name the coffee house that I started, and ‘Common Grounds’ was chosen from several dozen names submitted,” said Hood, who officially opened the space in December 1998. “The majority of the first-floor space and the second-floor meeting rooms have been available free of charge for individuals and community groups to use. Common Grounds has often been referred to as ‘the community’s living room,’ and some refer to the entire building as Common Grounds; note the awning out front [that] says ‘Dave’s Diner at Common Grounds.’”
Wheeler, who continues to advise Project CAFÉ and now serves as Village of Cazenovia mayor, was instrumental in the early stages of Common Grounds, according to Hood.
“His leadership of Project CAFÉ and mentoring of young leaders was a primary reason I invested my time creating and promoting Common Grounds,” Hood said. “The work that Project CAFÉ kids do for our community is underappreciated and under-recognized.”
The many groups and events that have been hosted by Common Grounds throughout the years include a bereavement group, tutoring classes, book clubs, a chess club, art exhibitions, TED Talks, open mic nights, wellness speakers, Toys for Tots, and “tough topic” discussions.
Project CAFÉ operated out of Common Grounds until 2015. Today, the student-directed group continues to organize community events such as the Cazenovia Winter Festival, an Earth Day cleanup, the Fourth of July Parade, and the 9/11 Observance.
In addition to serving as a dynamic meeting place, Common Grounds has offered support and funding to many local organizations.
The Common Grounds Challenge Grant program provided two-for-one matching grants to support multiple initiatives to help improve the Cazenovia community.
Common Grounds has also supported the creation of entirely new community organizations, such as Cazenovia Welcomes Refugees and the CazArts creative alliance.
In the early 2000s, Hood learned that someone was considering opening an adult bookstore/head shop in the vacant Magpie’s Pizza building on Sullivan Street.
Thinking that that type of establishment was not a good fit for the village, especially not for a building adjacent to Common Grounds, Hood bought the property and initiated a co-op arrangement with several local artisans who sold their works primarily at the local farmers’ market.
The Magpie’s building was renovated, and the artists were given a year-round home at The Shoppes at Common Grounds.
When the grocery store on that same block closed, Hood bought that property too and relocated Harvey’s Drugs into the renovated grocery store space, which is now Kinney Drugs.
“Around that same time, the college was considering a bookstore and newer dorm rooms, and an expanded presence in the village,” said Hood. “I ended up developing and leasing to the college two floors of dormitory rooms, the college bookstore, the copy shop, and a restaurant in the former Harvey’s Drug store space, which [the college] subsequently leased to the Thai restaurant. I relocated the artisan shops at Common Grounds into their fine gift store renamed the Cazenovia Artisans.”
Dave’s Diner moved into the expanded Common Grounds building in 2008 and is now owned by Bill and Debbie Tilison. In 2022, the Tilisons opened Purpose Coffee in the space in front of the diner.
Now, as Cazenovia College vacates “37 Albany Street” and the property’s future uses remain undetermined, Hood is seeking input from the community.
“When I developed Common Grounds, I held the community contest for coming up with the name,” he said. “Once again, I’m asking for community input and ideas for how that space, and even the dorms, can be used to serve the needs of our community. . . When members of our community come together, great things can happen.”
In addition to planning for the loss of Cazenovia College from his own property, Hood is also working with Wheeler and other local leaders to explore viable long-term options for uses of Cazenovia College’s main campus.
“Bob has made enormous contributions to our community over the past 25 years with his vision for Common Grounds, the Cazenovia Artisans, and countless other initiatives,” said Wheeler. “Like the broader challenge of the main campus, we look forward to working with him and [using] this time of change as an opportunity to strengthen Cazenovia.”