Tech Park in an Urban DestiNY

An open letter to Bob Congel.

Dec 21, 2005

Dear Mr. Congel:

The more I think about your Technology Park planned for Salina, the more I see it as the anchor of a revised vision of DestiNY: a diversified urbanistic development, to be part of a broader urban fabric that would, along with other development, effectively extend and also revitalize downtown Syracuse.

Imagine the tech park toward the north side of the tract, perhaps midpoint between Franklin Square and Carousel Mall. It would be close to everything. A campus-like setting with office buildings surrounding a quad-like green space would be fine. Build a garage below the quad, which would also provide a protected walkway between buildings in winter time.

Build a couple of hotels nearby, as needed, probably along Solar St.--the new main strip. I'm sure a nearby music, theatre, or convention venue would be viable. Build a museum, and maybe that aquarium? Put those, along with the state sponsored tourist center, within walking distance of the hotels.

Build condos and apartments, especially along the inlet canal; and add some restaurants along there and some trees as well, which would create a perfect environment for a creek walk, providing a pleasant view to residents and restaurant patrons. It could become a new signature destination. On the opposite side of this canal-facing block, include retail space at the sidewalk level, with condos, apartments, hotels, office space, or what have you, above.

This new street, between Solar St. and the inlet canal, would likely become a new stomping ground for evening and weekend entertainment. Consider calling it something like "Canal St." or "Riverwalk Dr.". It's self descriptive.

Bring in a couple of grocery stores so residents can really live the urban life, avoiding the need for a car for most things. This applies also to doctor's offices, hair salons, health clubs, pharmacies, antique shops, book shops, boutiques, florists, wine & liquor shops, dry cleaners, hardware stores, etc..

How about a school? Perhaps in connection with local universities? Or a technical school oriented toward the building trades and green construction technology? Or a music school? Or how about a fine arts and crafts school, specializing in restorations of all kinds? It could be the anchor that turns Syracuse into a center for antiques, restorations, and art galleries. How about an art mall for regional artist and fine furniture manufacturers? Another destination.

Consider building one or two primarily pedestrian bridges across the inlet canal. Very scenic. The other side should also be developed, perhaps with a quieter, more residential focus. But there should still be shops, and restaurants along the canal, completing an urban scape of life, lights, and glimmer, while still amidst nature. A post-card view for a green-technology park, don't you think?

Consider including bridge-walks between buildings, as in St. Paul Minnesota---and a couple in Syracuse. They're practical in winter, a novelty, and might become another signature of the area. Just a thought.

The inner harbor area should be developed similarly, a natural extension of the rest, based on urbanistic principles. Along with condo, office and retail space, I see a marina. In the summer there could be rowboat rentals, boat excursions around the lake, dinner cruises, scuba diving and sailboard lessons, boat and bicycle rentals. How about a boathouse for S.U., Syracuse Chargers, and Liverpool High School crew teams? Let's bring the National Rowing Championships back to Syracuse. In the winter there could be ice skating in the harbor, or at a new ice rink nearby. That aquarium should probably go here. Have a public space where recreational groups such as runners, skaters, cyclists and naturists can meet-up for their outings, and where small outdoor musical and theatrical performances can be held.

How will all this come together? We count on your expertise and deal-making magic to make your technology park plan a reality. Given that, the interest of other developers will be huge.

One thing. Don't expect the city to let you build every acre of the Oil City and harbor tracts. This should be a diversified project, whereby the city asks multiple developers to bid on various parts, with open and public review. The city would guide the development according to what is required for its long-term economic health and prosperity, so don't expect more PILOT agreements.

However, unlike a Disneyland type project, this approach doesn't rely on huge perpetual advertising and promotions to keep huge numbers of people coming and spending. It doesn't require huge government subsidies---grants and tax breaks---to offset the risk of an inherently unstable economic model.

This approach will be driven and sustained by the very social fabric it creates and extends. It will provide good jobs that produce goods and services that are really needed. The diversity of the new development will make it economically stable. It will add to tourism and to technology products and services. It will attract additional manufacturing and perhaps more back-office operations of banking, insurance, and brokerage companies. It will likely grow the local software industry. And it could create a new local industry in arts, antiques and restorations. Ah, a truly organic, sustainable, and green economic development approach.

I dare say, Mr. Congel, it just occurred to me: if you succeed in building your grand technology park in Syracuse, and help bring the vision described above to reality, I do believe we may all be moved to put up a statue in your honor.

Carlo Moneti
Syracuse, NY

Published in full on 2006-04-19 in The NewTimes.