Watertown renters have growing number of choices, developer Murray says

WATERTOWN — Renters have not had so many choices of where to live in and around the city for a long, long time.

Local developer Brian H. Murray gave that assessment Wednesday during the 2015 Economic Forecast Forum hosted by the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce at the Ramada Inn, which featured a panel discussion on the short-range forecast of the local and national economies.

The Woolworth Building, two new apartment complexes in the town of Watertown, the redevelopment of the old Mercy Hospital, and single-family homes and duplexes dotting the city are among the many reasons for a changing housing stock.

It’s good news for renters, he said.

With all that competition, rent is now coming down, said Mr. Murray, CEO and founder of Washington Street Properties.

“Overall, the market is healthy,” Mr. Murray told about 80 business owners and leaders.

With so many projects completed or underway, the community has met Fort Drum’s need for more than 1,000 units, he said.

Watertown is not alone.

Mark Tryniski, CEO and president of DeWitt-based Community Bank, said communities across the country are going through the same trend of people moving back into city centers. It’s happening in Syracuse, where Armory Square has become a mecca for urban dwellers, he said.

“It’s called urbanization,” he said. “You will continue to see that’s happening.”

Some local apartment complexes now have vacancy rates of 20 percent and offer a free month’s rate or other incentives to attract new tenants, Mr. Murray said.

There’s now an ample supply of housing and high-end apartments that go for $1,000 to $1,200 a month, but demand remains for units in the $500 to $900 range, he said.

Mr. Murray is in the process of purchasing the Rodeway Inn, 652 Arsenal St., for $1.3 million and plans to convert the two-story hotel into 48 studio and one-bedroom apartments. Once that project is completed this spring, the units will cost around $500 per month to rent and include utilities.

In the past couple of years, Mr. Murray has acquired the Lincoln Building on Public Square; the Solar Building on Franklin Street; the former Hospice Foundation of Jefferson County Inc. building at 425 Washington St.; the former Sanquist Apartments at 505 Washington St.; the Top of the Square plaza; and the Palmer Street and College Heights apartments.

Downtown is in the midst of a building boom that’s also creating some 300,000 square feet of commercial space in the business district. Most of that space has been vacant, Mr. Murray said.

There are a couple of corporate office complex projects underway nearby, but “downtown has become the business district,” he said.

While he looked at investing in other communities, including some out of state, Mr. Murray decided to remain committed to Watertown, he said.

Community Bank also has invested in the north country during the past 10 years by doubling its footprint and adding nearly 50 branches in the region, Mr. Tryniski said.

There are more than 300 Community Bank employees working in the north country, he said.

“We perform really well in the north country,” he said.

The other speakers on the panel included: Stephen Hunt, regional director of Empire State Development; John Chatterton, vice president of operations for New York Air Brake; and Col. Gary Rosenberg, garrison commander of Fort Drum.

Sponsors of the 2014 Economic Forecast included Community Bank, Visual Technologies, Sackel & Navarra CPA PC, NNY Business Magazine and the Watertown Daily Times.



By Craig Fox, Times Staff Writer

Papa John’s is latest tenant to leave Arsenal Street plaza

Papa John’s and Beyond Nerd recently moved out of the Top of the Square Plaza, and New York Fashions will be gone by the month’s end. But owner Brian H. Murray said he nevertheless is feeling upbeat about the plaza’s future.

A new sign featuring businesses that was installed about two weeks ago in front of the plaza is expected to draw more traffic, said Mr. Murray, who owns the bottom half of the building at 146 Arsenal St., below the Convergys call center.

Papa John’s moved out of the building at the start of the week, said Mr. Murray, owner of Washington Street Properties in Watertown. The Beyond Nerd electronics store moved out of its space at the end of December, but it still sells trading cards at a kiosk inside the minimall portion of the plaza facing Court Street.

New York Fashions, a clothing boutique, will move out by the end of the month and will relocate by March to Destiny USA mall in Syracuse, the store’s owner confirmed Wednesday. And Calvary Chapel North Country, which has rented space since May 2014 at the minimall in the plaza, plans to relocate to the former Globe MiniMall building at 302 Court St. this year; the building’s California owner decided last year to donate the building to the church.

Mr. Murray said Wednesday that he is not concerned about the relatively high turnover the plaza has had recently.

“We’re having some turnover in the space right now, but I do think the building improvements are going to make a big difference,” he said.

He said he was not given an explanation from Papa John’s about why the pizza franchise left the plaza, and he hopes another restaurant will move into the vacated spot.

“We’ve had a few tentative inquiries, and we’re optimistic we’ll get someone in there,” he said.

The new sign in front of the plaza entrance, which lists business names, is expected to increase traffic, Mr. Murray said. In the fall, a new sign also was installed on the Court Street side of the building by the same contractor, Kassis Superior Signs of Syracuse. He said a total of about $10,000 was spent on the two signs.

“The new sign on Arsenal Street is going to help people with spaces in the mall, in addition to signage at the mall entrance,” Mr. Murray said. “That’s going to help because customers can find places easier now. It’s such a heavily trafficked thoroughfare along Arsenal Street that there’s a lot of value having the signage out there.”

Alethia M. Lewis, owner of New York Fashions, said Wednesday that she decided to move out of the plaza due to the challenge of drawing customers in the downtown area. She said people don’t generally think of downtown as being a shopping destination.

“I’m moving out of this space because there’s no traffic here,” said Ms. Lewis, who opened the store in August 2012. “People who come here aren’t looking to shop but to do business. They go to Family Dollar or the bank. I’ve been here almost two years now and people don’t come.”

She added that Washington Street Properties increased the monthly rent in July from $700 to $1,170, which doesn’t include utilities.

“That’s another reason I decided to move out,” she said. “I chose Destiny USA because there’s a lot more traffic. The rent is only a little bit higher, but I’ll pay basically the same amount because utilities are included.”

Brad S. Walls, manager of Beyond Nerd, said the electronics side of the business was discontinued when it moved out of its space in the minimall at the end of December. The business, which has two employees including him, now sells only trading cards for Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic: The Gathering.

Mr. Walls said the business, which opened in April 2012, saved “a large amount” by moving out of its former space and operating only the kiosk.

“The cards sold better than our services and we didn’t need the whole store,” he said.

Other tenants in the plaza are Family Dollar, Jiu-Jitsu Nation, Carthage Savings & Loan Association and Rhonda’s FooteWorks.



By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer

2014 Class of 20 Under 40



This year’s class of 20 Under 40 (click the recipient’s name to watch a video and read his or her profile):



An architect, a director of business development, communication professionals, a national sales and marketing manager, an educator, a financial planner, health care professionals, an information technology specialist, a transportation center director, a director of human resources, a loan officer, a pair of camp leaders, a director of operations and a few small business owners.

Our fourth annual 20 Under 40 class was the most competitive field yet, and these individuals represent a snapshot of Northern New York’s most accomplished, dedicated and involved young professionals, across a wide spectrum of industries, and across three counties.

All of these young men and women are involved in some shape or form in their community, whether by serving on an organization’s board, being a foster parent, serving in a youth leadership organization, or something as simple as helping to organize community 5K runs or making time to donate to food banks.

All of these leaders, who are between the ages of 22 and 39, were chosen not only by the editors and staff of NNY Business magazine, but by virtue of glowing recommendations from their peers and employers. And not only do these emerging leaders, who embody the prized north country values of compassion, hard work and selflessness, make time in hectic schedules to volunteer in the community, they give their very best in challenging career fields each and day, all out of an effort to make the place they have chosen to stay in and call home the very best place it can be.

Allison I. Carlos, 22: Washington Street Properties


For Allison I. Carlos, being a north country native is a defining characteristic, but it’s not always easy. [Read more…]

Business Briefcase – Sept. 2014

Massena orchard earns best craft cider award

From left, New York Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, Edward Kaneb Jr., Nancy Badlam, Elizabeth Kaneb and Jim Trezise. Courtesy Kaneb Orchards.

From left, New York Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, Edward Kaneb Jr., Nancy Badlam, Elizabeth Kaneb and Jim Trezise. Courtesy Kaneb Orchards.

The New York Wine & Grape Foundation presented Kaneb Orchards, Massena, with the New York Best Craft Cider Award last month during its 2014 Classic in Watkins Glenn.

Called St. Lawrence Cider, it is the first hard cider released by Kaneb Orchards.

The award was presented by Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy during an awards ceremony along with the best wines, distilleries and breweries from across the state.

Kaneb Orchards, 182 Highland Road, grows its own apples and presses cider on location.

The cider house offers tastings for patrons 21 and older. It is open weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday through Sunday through Nov. 2. [Read more…]

Watertown real estate developer recognized with gold business award in Chicago

Brian Murray’s company Washington Street Properties was recognized as the 2014 Real Estate Company of the Year at the 12th annual American Business Awards. Amanda Morrison / NNY Business

Brian Murray’s company Washington Street Properties was recognized as the 2014 Real Estate Company of the Year at the 12th annual American Business Awards. Amanda Morrison / NNY Business

A real estate company that has renovated several properties in the city in recent years attracted national recognition for its work this weekend.

Washington Street Properties, formed in 2007 by Brian H. Murray, was recognized as the 2014 Real Estate Company of the Year at the 12th annual American Business Awards on Friday in Chicago.

“Three other real estate companies were selected as finalists, so we knew we were in the final four, but it was definitely a big surprise when we won,” Mr. Murray said.

The company has purchased and rehabilitated a number of buildings in and around Watertown, including the lower level of the building that houses Convergys on Arsenal Street, the Lincoln Building on Public Square, the Solar Building, the former Hospice Foundation of Jefferson County Inc. building at 425 Washington St., the Top of the Square plaza and the Palmer Street and College Heights apartments.

Mr. Murray said the company’s approach to real estate development, which often involves renovating neglected properties and leasing them to startups and small businesses, has set it apart from the competition and helped its success. [Read more…]

20Q: Brian H. Murray, Washington Street Properties

Success on the Square: For Washington Street Properties developer, risks lead to big rewards

Brian H. Murray, Washington Street Properties owner and president, in the lobby of the former Agricultural Insurance Co. building, Watertown. Norm Johnston/NNY Business

Real estate developer and Jefferson Community College business professor Brian H. Murray has his hands full. When he is not shaping young minds, he is brainstorming ways to revitalize downtown Watertown and Public Square. His latest purchases, the Lincoln Building and the Hospice of Jefferson County Building on Washington Street have garnered him increased interest from the community eager to know his plans. We sat down with Mr. Murray to talk about his plans for both buildings and his future in the north country.

NNYB: You moved to the north country in 2004 from Reston, Va. What was it about Watertown that drew you to the area?

MURRAY: I was living in the Adirondacks and I took some time off and enjoyed some substitute teaching and an opportunity came about at Jefferson Community College in the business division. I applied , took the position and moved to the Watertown area. [Read more…]