Apr 17, 2009 ellen leahy Uncategorized
Community Regenerative Act could revive Syracuse
Many Syracuse visionaries, thinkers and scholars aligned Monday in an abandoned parking lot sandwiched between West and Wyoming Street on the near West Side. Senator Charles E. Schumer stepped into the bright late morning sunlight with a backdrop of two stylized red-orange SU Connective Corridor buses. After an initial greeting by Syracuse’s official political groupie, Herman Schatz, the Senator stood before a gathering of Syracuse businesspeople, Syracuse University administrators and professors, representatives from several city agencies including Syracuse United Neighborhoods and West Side residents. Among them were parishioners of that neighborhood’s church, St. Lucy’s, complete with Father Jim Mathews, who had delayed his tee time for the occasion.
Schumer came to announce Syracuse as the epicenter of a new federal plan that he was proposing in the nation’s capital connected to Obama’s budget. Finally, the city of Syracuse’s 1,000 vacant houses attracted the right kind of notice.
“An abandoned building is an eyesore that keeps a neighborhood down,” Schumer said.
He noted that it wasn’t just the aesthetic, or the great burden these properties become on the city’s services and the residents, but also, vacant buildings choke redevelopment. He added this was the case not only in Syracuse, and not just inner city neighborhoods, but all across America.
The Community Regenerative Act
The legislation he proposed with Congressman Brian Higgins, the Community Regenerative Act, would include 30 cities nationwide (15 large and 15 small) to share in $300 million in pilot program funds. He first announced this plan in February in Buffalo, a city at the center of 15,000 vacant structures. Buffalo would be on the large list of cities; Schumer said he wants to include Syracuse on the list of small cities getting. The Senator noted that cities on the list have to have vacant structures and a plan and Syracuse has both in spades.
“I firmly and deeply believe in Syracuse,” he said.
SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor stepped up to the mic and said, “this was all about collaboration, and Senator Schumer has always been about that.” The two were very gracious and openly complementary of each other.
Schumer said he has seen the kind of revival planned for Syracuse’s Near West Side put into motion in both Beacon and Hudson, “and they didn’t have the great university that Syracuse has; we can use that same model here,” he said.
The plan includes the neighboring warehouses of Case and Lincoln Supply being turned into artists studios and lofts, a move of public television’s WCNY headquarters and many other initiatives in this district newly named S.A.L.T (Syracuse.Art.Life.Technology) by Syracuse University community outreach directed by Marilyn Higgins (who introduced the Senator).
“Senator, we’ve taken some risks with our partner Home Headquarters,” Higgins said as together they responded to Nancy Cantor’s challenge to work together with business to empower this area of the city with new ideas and design. She commented on King & King Architects newly renovated office building on West Street, “As creative a reuse of a building you will see anywhere.”
Long time West Side resident, Nancy Tejeda, of Fitch Street, stepped up and welcomed Schumer to her neighborhood. She acknowledged the blight, but also indicated that her neighborhood was a fighter that could pick itself up, giving the example, “Our church, St. Lucy’s steeple broke, and we rebuilt it.”
Bernard McMillan of the Strathmore Neighborhood Association told the Senator he could see where he was going with this plan and gave his approval.
Josie (Russo) Gear, who was born in 1939 and grew up on Otisco Street, now works in the outreach ministry for St. Lucy’s.
“I played in these streets as a child,” she said.
She often works with the less fortunate in the neighborhood and said it had crossed her mind that some of the residents would be forced out with all the plans for new businesses and homes coming in, but that she hoped this would not come to fruition. She said she would put Senator Schumer’s proposal on their prayer list at St. Lucy’s.
Simon Samaha who lives at the downtown Y, and is a parishioner at St. Lucy’s was very excited by the Senator’s appearance in the neighborhood, “More than proud, I am happy,” he said.
The Community Regeneration Act, would:
Establish a three-year, $300 million demonstration program that would select 15 small cities and 15 large cities experiencing large-scale property vacancy and abandonment. Once selected, a city like Buffalo could use the funding to address its specific vacancy issues, including establishment or expansion of local regional land banks, deconstruction and demolition of vacant and abandoned properties, development of green infrastructure including renewable energy production, the adaptive reuse of architecturally, historically or culturally significant structures and the development of comprehensive plans to address vacant properties.
Authorize the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide grants of up to $250,000 to communities to help fund the planning and development process. It would also authorize a competitive innovative grants program for specific short-term demonstration projects. Projects would include designing and creating green infrastructure, the establishment of recycling systems for recovered building materials, and/or the development of urban agriculture initiatives. The program would receive $25 million for the first year, and $12.5 million for each of the last two years.
Create a new council — the Federal Interagency Regeneration Communities Coordinating Council — that would include representatives from relevant federal agencies. The Council would develop federal agency support plans for the cities where the pilot program is implemented, offering technical assistance to grantees. The council would receive $24 million in funding.
Editor’s note: These three points were taken word for word from schumer.senate.gov/new_website/record.cfm?id=308804. Also go tosaltdistrict.com for more specifics on theNear West Side initiative.