Drone Pilot JobsLongtime Syracuse nuisance property on path to becoming taxpayer, site of job-creating tech firm

December 15, 2021by helo-10

Syracuse, N.Y. – A longtime eyesore on the city’s West Side may be headed back to the tax rolls, 23 years after being abandoned.

The state announced on Tuesday that a drone company, Fotokite, hopes to become the first and largest tenant in the building if it’s redeveloped. If Fotokite spends $21 million to turn part of the Syracuse Developmental Center site into a high-tech drone manufacturing facility, the state has promised to give the company a $2.5 million grant. The company would get another $2.5 million tax credit if it adds 200 jobs in Syracuse.

It would be a redemption story for a building with a long, complicated and sometimes shady history.

The sprawling property, situated near Burnet Park and the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, was once a home for developmentally disabled people. The center closed in 1998, and the property has been dormant since.

The empty 628,808-square-foot building, surrounded by 47 acres of land, became a target for vandals over the past two decades. Thieves stripped away almost all metal, including the pipes, and someone intentionally set a fire inside the building in 2019.

A state agency sold the property to Long Island investors in 2008. They never paid taxes on the property, racking up a $2.27 million tax bill over four years. It was the highest delinquent tax bill in the city at the time.

Syracuse Center LLC purchased the property at auction in early 2013, but again didn’t develop the property and stopped paying taxes. A Syracuse.com | Post-Standard investigation linked Syracuse Center to a Kazakhstan company accused of being a front for stolen money.

The city seized the property in August 2019, citing more than $887,000 in back taxes owed.

The property has been on the market for more than a year. At the time, Mayor Ben Walsh said he hoped to attract a developer to put the “prime piece of real estate” back to good use – and back on the tax rolls.

The city sought proposals from developers for the site but didn’t select any bidders, said Greg Loh, a spokesman for the mayor’s office.

Officials are “in early-stage discussions” on plans for the building, Loh said. He expects the city will have more concrete plan details in the first quarter of 2022.

Fotokite, the proposed tenant, makes tethered drones, which are used mostly by police and fire departments. Using robotics both in the air and on the ground, the drone system – which is attached by a line to something on the ground – can fly without a pilot for up to 24 hours.

The company is currently located in The Tech Garden in Syracuse and has offices in Colorado and Switzerland. Company officials declined comment.

In 2018, Fotokite won $1 million from GENIUS New York, a state-funded competition for startups specializing in drone technology.

Got a tip, comment or story idea? Call or text Megan Craig at 315-925-7137, email her at [email protected] or send a direct message on Twitter @megcraig1.

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There is more to being a drone pilot than just buying a machine and flying in your backyard. It can be that simple, but most of us will need to understand some drone laws before we try to take to the sky.


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