Friday, November 10, 2006

Keepin' The Money Flowin'

While Salt(ed) City's contributors have their own political opinions, just like anyone else, the point of this blog is definitely not to air them. We want to stay on task with discussing smart, innovative, realistic-yet-imaginative ways to spur economic development in the 'Cuse. But, inevitably, politics does creep in from time to time.

Let me make this one point. Congressman Walsh's narrow brush with electoral defeat this week would not have boded well for Syracuse from a cold, hard cash perspective. Regardless of what one might think of the process of earmarking (a lovely euphemism for members of Congress inserting provisions in giant spending bills for money to be directed to pet projects in their districts), Syracuse has benefited greatly from Walsh's position as chairman of a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Even as ranking minority member, a position he will assume in the next Congress in January, he will have far more influence over helping out the 'Cuse with federal dollars than Dan Maffei would as a freshman Congressman.

I'm not saying that the ability to funnel money from the feds back home should be our primary criteria in electing officials (I don't think that at all). Nor am I endorsing earmarking - or, as some might say, pork barrel spending - as an ideal element of the federal budgeting process (actually, I think it's pretty troubling). But speaking objectively as possible, Rep. Walsh has done a lot for this city, and many good projects - including the long awaited clean-up of Onondaga Lake - are owed in large measure to his influence.

We can and should have a vigorous debate over who represents us in Washington. And we must weigh many, many factors in our decision. But, as a current resident of the DC metro area, I'm just saying we must also be politically astute, and recognize the way things work inside the Beltway.

Syracuse CoE - 2006 Progress Report

Here's something you may not have seen. On October 30, Syracuse's Center for Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems issued its annual progress report. As we've discussed on Salt(ed) City before, the CoE could be the most promising avenue for high tech, professional job growth in the region.

Some highlights from the report:

*the CoE's high tech, very green headquarters is currently under construction at the corner of East Washington and Almond Streets - the location of the old Midtown Plaza (whenever one shakes one's head at the asthetics of downtown, remember how bad it used to be when that white elephant was still around...). Excavation began last month, so keep your eyes peeled...

* The building is aiming for the top 'Platinum' rating through the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. One really cool feature of the building - geothermal heating and cooling systems.

*The report also highlighted some partnerships and activities in which the CoE has played an integral role in the last year: the conversion of the old Miller Brewery in Fulton to a ethanol manufacturing facility, construction of a zero-energy prototype home in DeWitt, and Carrier's committment to hq-ing its "indoor air quality performance" company-wide initiative at its Carrier Circle campus. Carrier also donated $1.5 million for an indoor air quality lab to be built at the new CoE. (nice to have Carrier involved in some good news for once...)

*O'Brien & Gere are also highlighted, and their recent success in local job creation is partially accredited to a grant the CoE and MDA provided in 2002 for emissions-control technology. This might be old news, but this week's announcement that OBG will be relocating its headquarters in a new downtown development demonstrates that CoE's investment over 4 years ago has really paid off...who knows where current investments could lead in the future?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hitting the Tipping Point Downtown?

Imagine serious construction in CNY. Imagine the construction of a new corporate headquarters, bringing 300 engineers, scientists, and professionals to a part of the region - imagine the impact, the ripple effects.

Now stop imagining. In probably some of the best news downtown Syracuse has heard since, I don't know, the Erie Canal was dug, O'Brien & Gere has announced it will be the anchor tenant of developer Michael Falcone's new building on the outskirts of Armory Square. The engineering firm, currently headquartered in Dewitt, will be moving to the Pioneer Cos.'s planned downtown building on the two Franklin St. parking lots currently favored by Armory bar patrons.

Whether this is the "tipping point" for downtown's redevelopment remains to be seened - but, coupled with AXA's decision to stay in the MONY Towers (sorry, old habits...), downtown is having a good couple months. We also know, as developer Doug Sutherland often points out, while professionals in a downtown spend money there, residents spend more. And with luxury condos and more affordable apartments making up a significant part of the proposed development, hopefully some of the OBG professionals will make the leap into urban living and enjoy a commute measured in feet rather than miles.

Either way, great news.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Continuing Adventures of 40 Below

As we've talked about at length, an outgrowth of 40 Below, known as Adapt CNY, is in the process of renovating the Wilson Building in the 300 Block of S. Salina St.

The group is eliciting donations to raise about half of the $4 million needed for renovations (which include creating condos/apartments and first floor retail space). The group's latest "bake sale" - a $100 per person New Years Eve bash at the Hotel Syracuse. The hotel, which is also waiting for its own renovations, apparently can still be used for fundraisers/events held in the famous Persian Terrace ballroom. A cool event, and a good idea. I'm thinking of extending my Christmas vacation in the 'Cuse until New Years so I can go.

I have a couple of questions about Adapt CNY, however. Ultimately, who will be receiving the income from the rental of apartments and commercial space in the building? I only ask because obviously this is being promoted/treated as almost a charitable endeavor, but potentially someone stands to make a profit. As Adapt CNY is a non-profit, perhaps the money will be directed to other 40 Below activities, or even to the purchase/renovation of other properties in the city. I'm just curious about the long term aims of the initiative (i.e., in cold business terms, who gets the benefit of the donations and volunteer work...)

The group is currently seeking volunteers to do building clean-out work on the weekends - a smart idea to get the community involved. Check out the group's site for more info. (I love the site/project name - "Save Wilson". Reminds me of Tim Allen and Tom Hanks.)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Just What is Dendrology Anyway?

We’re back. All I can say is, we’re back.

And on a busy news day in Syracuse’s economic development world. Let’s look at the two big stories.

First, the state Canal Corp. is apparently abandoning Congel’s Ditch, Jr. – the proposed $230 million redevelopment of the Inner Harbor. The Canal Corp. announced it was suspending negotiations with the Pyramid/Destiny spinoff company that had proposed to purchase and develop the land around the Inner Harbor, for mixed used purposes. The Canal Corp. says by the beginning of 2007, it will have considered two alternative proposals from Norstar USA and the Sutton Companies.

My guess? This will get tangled up in criminations, recriminations, and re-recriminations.

Which, of course, is a shame, because the Inner Harbor physically would connect Franklin Square to the Carousel/Regional Market/Transportation Center/Stadium zone, essentially creating a redevelopment corridor from downtown to the shore of the Lake.

Sigh. To paraphrase John Lennon, imagine there’s no Destiny USA – well, actually you don’t have to imagine. You have to do the opposite of imagine. I guess that would be recognizing reality. But as I think Bob Niedt was driving at today on Storefront, imagine if “Destiny” wasn’t greedily dominating the economic development agenda in Syracuse today. So much could - and I emphasize could – be different…

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In the other big story, upon the recommendation of the selection committee, Mayor Driscoll announced the official choice for the Connective Corridor design team –Field Operations with CLEAR. Ok, great news, the C2 is going forward. But let’s do our due diligence on the design team:

Field Operations – a consultancy led by James Corner, chair of the Landscape Architecture Dept. at the University of Pennsylvania. Seems like Mr. Corner has some serious street cred, but I’m concerned by his firm’s website – it’s obnoxiously designed, with a “look what we can do” style, while practically inaccessible to the casual user. Hope the C2 design will fare better…

ARUP – this a serious, global design and engineering consultancy; I think we can feel pretty good about their involvement in the project.

L'Observatoire International – a lighting company that, by the barebones website, might be just getting off the ground. Still, they look professional, at least.

Donald J. Leopold – an ecology consultant and professor at SUNY ESF here in town. One of my sisters happens to be a close friend of Dr. Leopold’s son, but all I really know about him is that he is exceeding intelligent, and is an expert in dendrology, which, as everyone knows, is the study of trees. As a distinguished faculty member at ESF, and a landscape expert, Dr. Leopold seems a good fit with the team.

Solid credentials all, but the proof of the team will be in the design, and the execution. I’ve said it before, the Connective Corridor could be a tremendous asset for the city, combining practical transportation solutions with a healthy dollop of art and culture. But if it turns into an esoteric, post-modern, inaccessible…thing…well, let’s just work with the assumption that that won’t happen.

For anyone who’s stuck with us during our couple week hiatus – thanks! We’re back at full steam (for real this time).