February 2, 2014

Onondaga Lake: All Our Old Ideas are New Again

D. Lassman/syracuse.com photo
Is your head still spinning from the Sonofa Governor Bus Tour through Solvay and Geddes last week?

Do you wonder what on earth is going on with plans for 'economic development' in the CNY area,  now that Andrew Cuomo and Joanie Mahoney are BFFs, or at least BFFAW (best friends for a while)?

I can assure you I'm afflicted by both the spinning and the wondering. I mean, how do we go from a half-a-billion downtown stadium project to a tenth-of-a-billion outside-the-city lakefront development project so quickly?

To a certain extent, it's because JoAndrew (like Brangelina, get it?) are people of vision, who are not afraid of bold ideas, and who like to work quickly. And we've learned they also share an affinity of talking first to the people who they're sure will agree with them (or can be cajoled into agreeing with them), and sometime after that, talking to other people must of us would to be key stakeholders.

You know, like Andrew did getting the SAFE Act pushed through (with many perfectly acceptable provisions, I might add), but without the support of most law enforcement officials in the state, or many of the politicians who are charged with being the voice for their constituents. And like Joanie almost did when she tried to put a huge project in Stephanie Miner's backyard without talking to her about it.

I remain supportive of the mayor's position that anything worth doing is worth doing right -- and I believe that's true for the lake project as well.

Here's what JoAndrew have proposed:
  • $50 million for a 17,000 seat amphitheater overlooking the lake
  • $20 million to develop 'future business sites', including brownfield cleanup
  • $10 million for senior housing and encouragement of other housing in Solvay
  • $14 million ($7 million each) for improvements to Bridge Street and 'main street' work in Solvay
  • $3 million to complete the mixed-use trail around the lake
  • $1.8 million for roadwork at Milton Ave and Bridge Street, and street-scaping on Cogswell Ave
  • $1 million grant money for new business development in a targeted area
There's also some money for water taxis to go from the Inner Harbor to the newly developed area. Those would likely see use quickly, assuming someone jumps at the chance, because Mahoney believes the amphitheater will completed in the fall of 2015 (apparently after the summer concert season, and assuming no delays).

The county is already on board for $500,000 for studying the plan, coming up with a design contest or something, and for $2.5M in annual contributions from our anticipated gambling deliverance (another deal done the Cuomo way, vis a vis the negotiations with New York's casino-owning Indian tribes.) And Cuomo included $30 million of the total plan in his 2014 budget, part of over $5B in borrowing he's proposing.

I haven't seen anything on who will manage the amphitheater, and think it's more than a bit murky as to how this will impact the State Fair across the street, and it's 17,000-seat, grossly-underused and poorly-managed grandstand. Here's Cuomo on that question; it'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.
I don't know if it will replace the Grandstand. But this project, the amphitheater component of it, will no doubt enhance the State Fair. And it'll be another venue for the State Fair and it'll make the State Fair much more competitive on entertainment events.
Uh huh.

So, how do these plans stack up against some of the other stuff that was dreamed up in the past? Well, back in November 2012, there was a fantastic article written by Paul Riede that recapped some of the ideas that have been proposed over the years for Onondaga Lake.

And by "over the years" I mean going back to the 1920's, folks.  We've been at this a LONG time. Take a look:

  • Bathing beaches, fishing and canoeing; horse trails; playing fields and crew races; an aerodrome and aviation school at Lakeview Point (proposed home of the amphitheater), and a seamless connection between the Fairgrounds and the lake, all of which would draw "thousands of Onondagans and hundreds of thousands of tourists". ~ Joseph A Griffin, chairman of the Boulevard-Parkway Committee, 1928.
  • An 18-hole golf course, restaurant, and recreation area at Lakeview Point; an aquatic stadium and theater (for watching sports and other events)' a botanical garden; parade grounds; baseball and football fields, and more development on the north end, including beach, bathhouse, playing fields, etc. ~Madigan-Hyland engineering company report, 1952.
  • A seasonal performing arts center (again at Lakeview Point), along with a floating natural history and environmental center, a water-sport training and activity center (capable of accommodating US Olympic teams!), and access to these venues by water taxi. ~Onondaga Lake Development Plan, a joint effort of the MDA Foundation, the State's Urban Development Corp., the county Industrial Development and the City of Syracuse, 1991.
  • A 150,000 square foot expo center, complete with indoor waterfall; a hotel; a restaurant tower rising 400 feet above the lake (the OnTower, like the Oncenter?), and room for more cool stuff (waterpark, 'Agriworld', which I'm guessing is some sort of farming/amusement thing, and a rodeo), all predicated on getting rid of the wastebeds at, you guessed it, Lakeview Point, so that the Fairgrounds and lakefront could be better connected. ~Michael Nowak, late local architect, 2000. 
  • Re-routing I-690 to the other side of the Fairgrounds, or depressing it (similar to I-81 on the north side) and using overpasses to connect the Fairgrounds to the lake, making room for parks, a hotel and  restaurant, and a year-round mini-amusement and theme park.~ Syracuse Waterfront Revitalization Plan, 2000.
  • A world-class 18-hole golf course on the southern shore of the lake. ~Bob Congel, Syracuse developer and master of the economic development money game,  2002.
  • Hotel, theme restaurants, marina, parking and office buildings on Lakeview Point; offices in the Harbor Brook area (also on the west side of the lake) and a wind farm and vineyard on some of the other wastebeds. ~O'Brien & Gere, 2005. 
  • A $450M giant hotel -- 640 feet tall, over 1,300 rooms - designed to be the tallest building outside of New York City. ~Congel again, in 2007. 
  • A 600-foot wide strip of land across the lake at the southern end, with a shop- and restaurant-lined road down the center, which would form an area for fishing and boating piers; a 200-foot extension of the lake on the southeastern side for the loop trail and residential development, and a Haudenosaunee museum. ~David Ashley, retired founder of Ashley-McGraw Architects, 2012. 

I'm not sure about you, but does all this "extraordinary" and "visionary" stuff sound familiar? 

Onondaga Lake/sue drummond photo
Seems we have a consistent problem, going back three generations or so: we have lots of ideas (or, it appears, the same handful of ideas over and over again), but we apparently don't have the money (or the stomach) for bringing those ideas to fruition. 

We've had citizens' groups and governmental agencies individually or collectively, we've had private developers and heck, even private citizens come up with plans.  And yet... here we sit, bold ideas in hand, all these years later, even as the sun shines down on the projected area of development, as it did in my picture from New Year's Day 2012.

Will JoAndrew be successful, where so many have failed?  Stay tuned.