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One by one: Syracuse Urban Renewal Agency takes on vacant housing in Syracuse

In Syracuse, projects labeled "urban renewal" have garnered a reputation, and it isn't a good one.

But after four decades of relative dormancy, the Syracuse Urban Renewal Agency is energized to take on the most blighted areas of the city, one vacant, uninhabitable or tax delinquent property at a time.

In December, SURA established an urban renewal plan, a significant step toward speeding and simplifying the process of reselling vacant lots and deteriorating buildings to developers.

"What we're trying to do now is use this agency as a tool to vet developers that want to develop seizable and vacant properties," said Katelyn Wright, a land use planner with the city's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

The repurposing of SURA -- an agency whose reputation in Syracuse is less than gleaming -- with a comprehensive, long-term plan is huge.

But it will be slow going to clean city properties, one by one, using an agency many Syracuse residents distrust.

A disjointed history

The Syracuse Urban Renewal Agency was formed in 1962, a requirement to access new urban renewal funding through the federal government; when the funds dried up in the late 70s, SURA became more or less inactive.

But for a span of about 15 years, projects listed under SURA razed historic landmarks, built a concrete barrier through the heart of the city, destroyed entire neighborhoods and displaced their residents.

Still, the program was responsible for some great developments, pointed out Dennis Connors, curator of history at the Onondaga Historical Association.

The Everson Museum of Art, originally planned as the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, was created largely through urban renewal efforts, Connors said.

On the other hand, SURA is widely considered responsible for wiping out the 15th Ward, demolishing historic Clinton Square and starting projects it couldn't afford to finish.

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