How the construction of The Marshall ‘sanitized’ one of Syracuse’s favorite alleyways

How The Marshall ‘sanitized’ one of Syracuse’s favorite alleyways

Goodbye, Chuck’s. Farewell, Funk N’ Waffles. For some community members, luxury student housing erases campus culture and traditions.
Published: May 17, 2019 | Updated: May 20th, 2019 at 3:47 pm
Chuck's during the 2016 Final Four
Basketball fans pack Chuck's to watch Syracuse play in the 2016 Final Four.

One day about two and a half years ago, Adam Gold took the trash out of his Funk n’ Waffles restaurant  in the alley behind Marshall Street. Outside, Gold noticed two men in suits looking around, examining the nearby property and land. They weren’t wearing the type of suits Gold has in his closet.

“Insane suits, like New York City suits,” Gold said. “I was like, those have got to be my new landlords. They just looked like they were dressed totally differently than everybody else around here. So I could tell that something was going down.”

One of those men was Jared Hutter, who eventually bought the building that Funk n’ Waffles, Hungry Chuck’s and other businesses were located in to build The Marshall, an eight-story apartment building that is the newest of the luxury student housing complexes to spring up around Syracuse University in the last decade. The Marshall displaced long-standing businesses near South Crouse Avenue and Marshall Street, erasing a strip of bars and restaurants that had been the setting of dates and dance parties for decades of Syracuse University students.

“It’s definitely lost something,” Gold said. “That alleyway was definitely very beat up and old school. Something’s really changed.”

News emerged in early 2017 that demolition on the strip containing Chuck’s and Funk n’ Waffles could begin as soon as March 2017. The businesses there were all on leases, and the powerless owners could do little to keep their modest storefronts.  

When Hutter came in with a financially viable offer, he could buy the four side-by-side buildings from  721 to 729 S. Crouse Ave. The leases had clauses that allowed them to be ended in the case of a large offer to buy the space.

“They just bought the whole building,” Gold said. “Our lease wasn’t very long, so it was very easy for them.”

Gold, who had a new location near Armory Square  and was soon to open one in downtown Rochester, realized he couldn’t do much, so he allowed the news to come and go quietly. But the owner of popular bar Chuck’s, Stephen Theobald, took a different appraoch.

Theobald sued 727 S Crouse LLC, the entity purchasing the space controlled by Hutter.

The main point of argument focused on whether Hutter and company had proven the financial backing to activate the lease-ending clause in Theobald’s lease agreement. But only a month after filing, Theobald chose to drop the case.

Gold had worked on a buyout with Hutter’s group, the terms of of which he would not disclose. It’s unclear whether Theobald – who did not make himself available for comment – did the same.

“All I could do was negotiate some kind of exit strategy,” Gold said.

Hutter’s group approached Gold about renting out space for Funk n’ Waffles on the first floor of The Marshall, mixed-use space that will soon be home to Blaze Pizza and other food options. Those new options exist in the first place so The Marshall can receive huge tax breaks, via the Section 485-a exemption that allows existing buildings converted for residential and commercial use to be claim significant tax relief. But Gold said that the rent Hutter proposed was 400 to 500 percent higher than the spot he’d been leasing previously, a cost that was simply not worth it: “Impossible,” he said.

Dan Lyons, a 2012 graduate of Syracuse University, frequented Chuck’s as a student. After big events, like SU’s March 2012 win over Wisconsin to reach the Elite Eight, Lyons headed to the bar, knowing he’d find people he knew.

“It was a place where you could kind of see the entirety of the Syracuse campus,” Lyons said. “There was a real melting pot of the kids that were going there at the time.”

The character of that area off of S. Crouse Avenue has changed since The Marshall’s inception, Gold and Lyons said. It’s newer. It’s shinier. It’s fresher. “Sanitized,” Lyons described it. It’s an upgrade Gold felt was inevitable next to what he called a world-class university in SU. But there’s always two sides to change.

A decades-old bar in Chuck’s was lost. The only unique breakfast location near Marshall Street was lost, too, and Gold said SU faculty who were frequent customers simply don’t come by anymore, with his remaining location not in walking distance of “the hill.” People lament the lack of the former Funk n’ Waffles location every day, Gold said.

Funk N' Waffles Before Teardown
The entrance to Funk n' Waffles' original location in the alleyway where The Marshall apartments now stands.

An urban planning professor at Syracuse University, Austin Zwick, said all the new construction might, in the long-term, create more opportunities for there to be other small businesses.

“Generally-speaking, greater density creates greater opportunity for places like Funk n’ Waffles and Chuck’s to exist,” Zwick wrote in an email. “So, in the long run, Marshall Street and the surrounding area could use even greater densification to generate more private businesses and public spaces. Other planners, who care more about heritage and community-building, might see it differently.”

Gold only expects the densification to continue. He laughed at the thought of Marshall Street being barely visible from main campus once the new veterans’ building is completed. Construction won’t stop moving upward, either, he said.

“There’s gonna be a lot more skyscrapers,” Gold said.

In March, Lyons made his first trip to campus since Chuck’s closed to see SU Men’s Basketball’s final home game, against Virginia. He didn’t know The Marshall had already been built, and he found it jarring. He and his friends settled for Faegan’s and Orange Crate Brewing Co., but they really wanted to go to Chuck’s.

 

Lyons laughed when he realized the dumpsters were still in the South Crouse alleyway, the only remnants of a street that used to be “grimy.” Next to the brand new Marshall, the dumpsters seem out of place.

“If you talk to alumni from the early 2000s or the ’90s, everyone has their own bar that was there. They were all, I’m sure, special for similar reasons,” Lyons said. “But it’s not only that Chuck’s is gone, but if you go down that alleyway, it’s barely an alleyway anymore.

“There isn’t any kind of campus culture back there.”

Avatar for Billy Heyen

is a contributor to The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.