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City takes aim on vacant, underused commercial properties

If you don't know exactly what you have to offer, you're already selling yourself short.

That's the philosophy behind an initiative to create a comprehensive database of the vacant and underutilized commercial properties in the entire city of Syracuse.

As of May, the Division of Code Enforcement listed 1,650 vacant buildings in the city. In December, that number had ticked up to 1,863.

"Our goal is to know the story on every piece of commercial property in the city," said Ben Walsh, the city's deputy commissioner of Neighborhood and Business Development. "We want to be the central clearinghouse of information."

Keeping up to date on that number, plus the number of properties that are used but not to their full potential, will be no small task. Using resources that already exist Walsh is optimistic that the department will be able to compile and maintain an up-to-date record of commercial properties

No small task

This is a giant undertaking, Walsh recognized, and one that has not been attempted before in Syracuse.

"Previously and for good reason we've primarily depended on the real estate community" to keep track of available properties, Walsh said.

But knowing the full depth of the problem of empty storefronts and unused commercial space will be critical in solving the problem.

"Having the information is the important part because you need to have the information before you can identify what the challenges are," Walsh said.

It's a method that worked for the Downtown Committee, a not-for-profit that essentially exists to promote living and working in the downtown district of Syracuse.

In 1997, the Downtown Committee released its first economic development report and launched its own database of commercial properties within the district, providing a working model for the city-wide clearinghouse.

The Downtown Committee's Director of Economic Development Merike Treier said having access to that kind of comprehensive clearinghouse allows the Downtown Committee to act as a matchmaker between interested parties, like potential developers, and private real estate brokers.

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