Thursday, December 28, 2006

Live from Syracuse, It's Salted City

Home in the 'Cuse for a weeklong Christmas vacation. Tonight, you can find me here, at the MDA's Come Home to Syracuse event at Dorsey's in Armory Square, from 5-7:30 pm. A free drink, and networking with 30 local white collar employers with over 100 available jobs, from what I hear. I'll post a recap later this evening.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hugging Trees for Fun and Profit

SUNY ESF has won a $10 million state grant towards building a commercial cellulosic ethanol facility, up north in Lewis County. Another $10 million for the facility will be provided by Catalyst Renewables Corp., New Energy Capital Corp., and O’Brien & Gere.

Basically, these guys are going to make fuel from wood chips and try to sell it.

Awesome. Yet another example of renewable energy / environmental technology growth in CNY. The more stories we read like this, the more the momentum grows for the ‘Cuse becoming the Silicon Valley of environmental technologies. It could happen. And it would do a heck of a lot more for our community (and our country) than some other economic development schemes out there (cough, cough).

In other news, Some setbacks on the construction of the Center for Excellence on the site of the old Midtown Plaza. Seems the construction crews struck gold – black gold – and the state DEC has to come in and clean-up. That’s right, construction of a center for environmental and energy technology is being delayed by environmental contamination – caused by oil. Bummer. Building might not be completed until mid-2008 now…

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What's a Few Million Between Friends?

So last spring, Mayor Driscoll signed a city ordinance to bill the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency $2.9 million for the work city employees did on various elements of Congel's Ditch. Now, Driscoll has changed his mind, and does not plan on asking SIDA to reimburse the city for these services. It seems the $2.9 million number was chosen by the Common Council because it just so happened to be the projected budget shortfall for the 'Cuse at the time. While the city ended up not needing the cash this year, it probably will in the next two years, and the Common Council is annoyed that Driscoll is no longer interested in getting it.

This is one of those situations in which one wants to get vehemently annoyed and pick a side, but it's just so confusing to know what to get mad about. On first glance, it seems a tad inappropriate for the Council to suggest making up budget shortfalls by essentially taking tribute from other entities, in dollar amounts that have no relationship to actual services rendered. Buuuut, on the other hand, if SIDA is not an independent entity, but actually an agency that falls under the authority of the city, particularly the city's fiscal authority, shifting funds from one department to another as needed is just common sense.

So what exactly is SIDA, and what is its relationship with the city? The mayor, according to the article, appoints its board, currently chaired by MDA head Erwin Davis, with top Driscoll official Kenneth Mokrzycki also serving as a board member. SIDA is a public non-profit corporation, with some decidely governmental powers, including granting tax exemptions and negotiating PILOT agreements. I don't think the Salvation Army or even the Red Cross can do that

Now of course, I'm being somewhat deliberately obtuse, as the economic development corporation is a pretty standard arrangement in cities across the U.S. But I think this disagreement neatly illustrates some of the problems inherent in government involvement in local development. As a non-profit public corporation, my guess is SIDA's charter empowers it to act independently on behalf of the city's economic development. Technically speaking then, the Common Council treating this organization like it was a $20 bill the Council just found in its collective coat is an abuse of its purpose. On the other hand, when quasi-governmental entities are created, they occupy a precarious position. If it has governmental powers, it should be under the authority of the local government, including fiscally.

It's quite possible I'm misunderstanding some key element of this debate, but what I think my point ultimately is, is this. There needs to be clear delineations between government and private entities. Zoning, basic services, police protection, taxes, etc., these are the functions of government. Indirectly, the city's attitude towards these things can have a powerful impact on development.

But things get awfully sticky when governments get involved in this particular development project or that one. Government should set the rules of the game, and make sure they are enforced, but then leave the real magic up to private firms (who shouldn't expect, or rely on, government financing or special treatment)...thus my libertarian leanings are betrayed. But I'm interested if anyone can shed more light on this matter.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hospital Plans on Life Support?

(ooh, look I could be a headline writer)
(Pre-Script: Speaking of newspapers, what's up with the Syracuse.com site? Articles have become increasingly error-riddled, the site is laid out in the least-intuitive way possible, and there are ZERO images. I think the P-S might want to think about a major overhaul...)

It seems everyone from Upstate Medical University President Dr. David Smith to County Executive Nicholas J. Pirro is opposed to a state commission's proposal to slice off University Hopsital from Upstate, privatize it, and then merge it with Crouse. A public hearing by State Asssemblypersons Monday at the OnCenter drew a crowd of 300. And, in my limited experience, 300 people don't show up at a public hearing to thank officials for a job well done, so you can guess their attitude.

It seems that everyone acknowledges that Crouse and Upstate should cooperate more (they are next door to each other, connected by underground tunnels, have strengths in different specialties, could cut costs tremendously, etc.). But privatizing University could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Dr. Smith, and, what in my mind might be even worse, damage the medical university significantly by destroying the intertwinity (that's a new word) of the hospital and the school. Upstate Medical University has a long long tradition in this town; truly one of our crown jewels. And University Hospital is second to none in the region. And the area's largest employer. This is something worth not screwing up. And with really cool stuff like this going on, we really don't need the nasty fight this is going to be.

I'm completely sympathetic to the fact that a heavy fiscal burden put on states in terms of providing medical care, and cutting costs may be needed. But the tough decisions that need to be made to address this problem (like cutting the federal tax burden and raising state and local taxes) are being ignored in favor of this sort of temporary action.

All the progress the 'Cuse has made in the last few months could really be jeopardized if anything bad happens to one of the two giants on the Hill.

Hail To The Chiefs

Finally! After ten long years of having to explain that, "No, I have no idea what a SkyChief is either," the 'Cuse will finally have the Chiefs officially back as the moniker of the local ball club. Sometimes the decision-making at One Tex Simone Drive can be a little, shall we say, inscrutable, but only props for this decision. And with no Native American elements the new logo, it seems like a win-win situation. While the old chieftain's logo has some sentimental value for me, I like the train motif of the new one - ties in well with the "intermodal transportation center" next door, and I think we could all agree that part of town could use some tying together.

Now if they can only relocate Alliance Bank Stadium downtown, and rename it Mac...(hey, it could even be in honor GMac instead of Gen. Douglas A...)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Catchin' Up

* The big story this week is the merger/downsizing/privatization situation affecting Crouse and University Hospitals, along with hospitals and care facilities across the Empire State. There are, of course, a variety of things going on here, many of which are only tangentially related to the purview of Salt(ed) City.

But as the region's big gun employer, job cuts at University could be devastating. And the timing is unfortunate, to say the least, what with the positive recent developments at the new Children's Hopsital, the Connective Corridor, and in Downtown. This is likely to turn into a big fat mess, and, while the leadership of both hospitals argues persuasively that parts of the state's decision should be fought, it's going to be a draining battle for the community...

* SU's really cool downtown outpost, The Warehouse, was recently named one of the "Best Projects of 2006" by New York Construction magazine. Deservedly so.

* Ribbon-cutting ceremony at the newly renovated Gray Brothers' building at the corner of Franklin and Walton Sts. in Armory Square. The building has some luxury lofts and is home to the hip Ohm Lounge, if that's your weekend pleasure (I prefer Suds or Mully's, but I'm just a regular bloke.). As Syracuse.com doesn't think its necessary to post images of ANYTHING online (apparently, it's not "America's Most Colorful Website"), check out the Downtown Committee's page on the project.

*Short but tantalizing article in Thursday's P-S about a "Sustainable Design Assessment Team" made up of volunteer architects and urban planners, who are embarking on a two month study to create a sustainable development policy for Onondaga County. The newspaper is silent on whether this study is sanctioned or funded by any local government or economic development entity (you'd think that would be a key detail...). We'll have to wait for the report, but it could be quite useful...

Event Alert: Look for a Come-Back-To-Syracuse networking type of event at Dorsey's on December 28. Designed to catch the home-for-Christmas crowd, my guess. More details will be posted as they become available.

Rumor Alert: The Wilson Building is not the only action that's going to be happening on the 300 block of S. Salina St. Stay tuned for some more developments soon...Syracuse's Main Street is coming closer to reality...

Hope on the South Side

Interesting article on an SU-sponsored business incubator project on the South Side in Friday's P-S. The project's director claims 22 businesses and 57 new jobs have been created since the project's inception two years ago. Read more about the South Side Entrepreneurial Connect Project here, though the site appears to be almost a year outdated.

I was curious to see if I could find a list of businesses established through the project, but a quick google search was unsuccessful. If anyone has any examples of such businesses, please share. It sounds like a very worthy project, but I'm always skeptical of statistics and numbers without concrete examples...

UPDATE: Here's a partial list on the project's website. I know for a fact that some of these companies predate the project, however. Still interested in businesses that started-up as a result of the incubator...

So Long, Nancy, We Hardly Knew Ye?

Reports in Friday's Boston Globe put SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor on a (not-so-short) list for Harvard's new president, among about 30 others. Saturday's P-S includes a denial from Cantor that she's in the running, or even has any interest.

Her protests aside, (I mean, come on, Harvard is, like, the Harvard of universities) my guess is Cantor is a long shot. But she does have some attributes that might give her an advantage. Aside from serving as the leader of two major universities, she is, noticeably, a woman, which my guess is high on the search committee's list of prereqs, given the fact that previous president Larry Summers was edged out because of supposed "gender insensitivity".

Either way, I don't think Cantor's leadership on the Connective Corridor, etc., is in jeopardy anytime soon, but it's something to keep an eye on...