Willie Morgan can spot a carpentry mistake from 35 feet.
“Hey, take that board out, use that 3 1/2 inch piece as a guide,” he says. “What you did was off by a little.”
At first the worker says. “It’s right, I think.”
Morgan, a Syracuse city resident for over 50 years, chuckles as he gives direction on a porch renovation on Beard Avenue.
“Some day fellas like these here, they’ll work on houses bought by a local neighborhood developer and they can start a business of their own,” he said.
Morgan has been cynical in the past about development projects.
“I hoped that ‘Gateway’ would be one of those things that would help, but that has not been realized as of today,” he said. He has high hopes for the new Syracuse University-inspired Innovation Center located in the Dunk & Bright facility.
“They’ve been very helpful and they’re very adamant about it; they’ll work with people,” Morgan said.
Morgan is among several businesses waiting for applications to the Innovation Center to be processed. “I’m beginning to see something I had hoped would happen. Maybe some money will come this way not only for economic development, but to help black businesses. We just don’t have black businesses on South Salina, we own the houses, we live on the south side, but we don’t own that many businesses on the south side.
“It wasn’t always like this,” Morgan said. “We had car repair places owned by blacks. I remember Chevrolet Ben, Willie Lemon’s, Slim Patterson. They were good businesses.”
“Even though I’ve spent 25 years working for Community Development in the government, I’ve always been skeptical because most of the time these programs are run by small-minded people who really don’t have the necessary skills to run a business. Most of the time these programs are designed by people who’ve never been in business.”
Morgan owns a property on Salina Street and operates a home inspection business and residential rehab company.
“You’d think they’d ask me to be on one of their boards but they won’t,” he said. “I think I’ve been kicked off every board in town. I was on Syracuse Neighborhood Housing board, Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility’s board. Walt Dixie never asked me. I was on the Human Rights Commission, they’re not developing the jobs right. If you raise questions at the board level they’ll kill ya.”
Morgan is passionate when he talks about alternatives to strictly government-funded economic development. He believes that ultimately development comes from citizens within a community willing to make some small investments.
“Take 100 people, put up $100 and that gives you $10,000. You invest $50 per month, that’s 5,000 per month. Not only will they have funds to invest in projects, business owners would have the advantage of having investors as advisors who’d be able to assist. The community becomes an investor. I’m retired. I don’t really need to be out here, but helping train these guys maybe someday they can work on their own, but for now .”
John Fredette is a businessman-turned-educator who once owned a South West Side business.
“I remember trying to borrow money from the city and I was told that I had to fund the project from my own pocket until reimbursed by the city,” Fredette said. He sold a property to finance his renovation.
No longer in business, Fredette’s focus is on education. “We’ve gone 41 years in Syracuse without a standing technical high school,” he said.
To Fredette the focus should be on education and neighborhood-based schools. “Busing was a failure. It’s immoral to spend $3,500 per year to educate students and spend $40,000 incarcerating them. We have to change the drug culture in Syracuse — it’s legit to be a drug dealer in Syracuse, it’s acceptable within the subculture of young people. We have to change that.”
Three corporations and two not-for-profits are working this area of South Salina Street cooperatively. The concept called “Little Africa” consists of a four-square-block area, boundaries for the north, by Brighton Avenue on the west at Lafayette Avenue the southern boundary is Cannon Street.
Amatullah Yamini made an impact on South Salina Street and Brighton Ave. purchasing Salina Shoe Store and creating the new Salina Shoe Salon that anchors this block under new ownership. Yamini’s development continues as she renovates properties for possible restaurant and residential use. These are now vacant store fronts and apartments on S. Salina Street.
Allemah S. Forbes-Haas and her son Gabriel have plans to develop Brighton Avenue across from Webster Street near the Dunk ‘N Bright facility. Lema Design Realty, LLC recently acquired the Gamble Estate. The estate included 7 properties that will become the centerpiece for what would be either mixed use residential/commercial or market rate Town homes.
According to Ms. Forbes-Hass “We plan on investing a substantial amount of money in this project and townhouses aren’t cheep.” Their mixed-use project would cost approximately 1.2 million dollars targeting low and moderate income residents. Forbes-Haas continues, “A gentleman that lives in one of our apartments, he grew up on the south side, said he’s been waiting for something like this for twenty years”.
Entrepreneur’s efforts towards development of the south side may be hindered by the lack of information and perhaps designation. According to Gabriel Hass, “We’re just across the street from both Empire Zone and Empowerment Zones it stops at Dunk ‘n Bright”
These zones enable business access to a variety of benefits including; Tax Reduction Credit, Real Property Tax Credit, Wage Reduction Credit, Utility Rate Reduction and much more. A frustrated Gabriel Hass, “We’ve reached out to the City of Syracuse and we never received a return phone call or anything.”
Young entrepreneurs Jacqueline Sahar Rasheed and Juwaad Rasheed are buying residential properties on Lafayette Ave. These seemingly separate entities make up a four square block area just south of designated Development Zones.
The Islamic Center, currently located at 127 West Brighton Ave., will be transformed into a Cultural Learning Center where prayer and environment are intertwined. The center will expand offering fellowship to those different groups.
Yamini, “What were beginning to do is look at the needs of the community, and say we are property owners and what can we do to enhance our properties and benefit the community. It’s time for us to stop patching up properties and go ahead and do them right so the neighborhood shines. Talking about gutting something down to the studs and starting brand new whatever’s appropriate.”
Allemah S. Forbes-Haas and her son Gabriel are optimistic that perhaps there’s a way that Development Zone status could be extended across the street. Until then they won’t wait for a return call from the City of Syracuse, they have work to do.