Thursday, December 29, 2011

Friday is Inauguration Day-Time for a Fresh Start

Well, it's finally here-out with the old, in with the new!

That's the spirit of New Year's. Why not extend that spirit to City Hall as well?

In celebration of the end of the Roefaro debacle, a big inauguration ceremony is planned for Friday, December 30th, 2011. The new Mayor, Robert Palmieri and Common Council members will be sworn in and on Sunday, the past four years will be but a memory.

What a memory!

Let's have a final review. Remember, when our man Dave first got elected? The promise of a new, fresh start?  It was quite exciting. There was a chance that things could be different somehow. And, for a while it was. But, it happened. The thing we most feared. The job changed the man.

It happened at first in small ways. The secrecy and the closed door, hush-hush meetings. The lack of direction and leadership from the top. Then, "King" Dave decreed that he was the the only reason that anything good would ever happen in our little city.

Let me explain. Once, at a meeting to discuss the stalled parking garage project, the king launched into a tirade explaining how truly important he was. "I am the only reason anything good ever happens here," he snarled. "I make it happen! NOTHING will ever get accomplished here, no one in Albany will ever help us if I am not Mayor!"

The shocked attendees, a mix of department heads and local consultants, filed quietly out the door of the Mayor's conference room. We all knew, somehow, that it was all over. The job changed the man.

Or, possibly the job just intensified the man that was always there. Maybe, a job like being mayor, can never really change someone. Perhaps, it just enables the true personality to shine through, unencumbered by the bounds of what is acceptable in private business.

Or maybe it's the power. Being mayor, even of a small, struggling city like Utica, can bring a lot of power to an individual. Whether it's real or perceived power, it can change a person. We have seen that throughout the years. And, we have paid for it as well.

So, Dave Roefaro, becomes mayor as a local business man and leaves office a "King." His words, not mine.

Now the cycle begins again. A new man, a new era. Will Rob Palmieri declare himself king one day?
I doubt it. Will the job change him? Hopefully not.  He has inherited a super-human challenge from his predecessors. I don't think he will have much time to dally with royal titles.

This is truly the make-or-break moment that our city has been waiting for. Or fearing. It all depends on the man at the top.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Around the City with Bobby Sullivan: Dave Roefaro-King of Kings

Around the City with Bobby Sullivan: Dave Roefaro-King of Kings: It's Christmas Eve and I promised myself no more Roefaro-inspired political blogs. However, when I read on the OD website the comments made ...

Dave Roefaro-King of Kings

It's Christmas Eve and I promised myself no more Roefaro-inspired political blogs. However, when I read on the OD website the comments made by "HRH Dave," I just could not pass it up!

"When you are the king, everyone wants to kill the king. I don't want to be king. I want to stand next to the king."

Yes friends, that is apparently the quote, as reported by the OD, that our mayor said in his farewell speech to the common council.

I know. I could not believe it either.

As I thought about it further, however, it makes perfect sense. It reflects the extreme hubris and sense of entitlement that is the hallmark of the Roefaro administration. A man who fancies himself to be the "KING" certainly cannot waste his time ruling over the peasant population of a place like Utica.

No sir, a King like Dave has to show how Royal he truly is by constantly visiting other places, like the kingdom of Las Vegas. While there, he can be pampered by a bevy of "ladies in waiting" and, while wearing the suitably monogrammed royal terrycloth robe, walk up and down the red carpeted halls of the Bellagio or some other royal palace.

After that exhausting state visit, he can spend some quality time in one of the small royal principalities of the Kingdom of Florida. While there, he can work on his tan (looks good  in royal photo-ops) spend time on the yacht of one of his many Duke friends, and possibly fit in a few rounds of the most royal game of golf.

But, even a hard working man like our very own King Dave has to return to the kingdom eventually. Not before one of his many state visits to the truly important Kingdom of Albany, where he is revered as one of the favorite rulers of the state. While there, he can put his royal connections to work bringing home the vast amount of riches that he has delivered to our grubby, grateful little hands.

But, alas all fairy tales must end. Now, King Dave has announced that he doesn't really want to be King after all. He has abdicated the throne. No more riches. No bejeweled roundabouts, a harbor that will never see a royal yacht. It's back to reality for us, the commoners of Utica.

Now, we must be content to be ruled by a non- royal. A common, everyday man. Why, even Diana, heir to the throne of Poland, fled her palace to avoid this cruel, wicked fate.

And, what about our soon to be former King? Where will he end up? What will his future be?

History has repeated this story many times. From Czars, to Sultans, to Kings, they have all ended up in the same place.

Farewell King Dave!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Memories of Christmas in Utica

Driving downtown the other night, my mother commented that, "Ed (former Mayor Ed Hanna) would be very upset if he saw what our downtown looked like. He was the only mayor who cared."

I immediately thought of how many other citizens of our city must feel the same way. True, the Hanna years were rife with controversy, wild antics and a general uncertainty of what could possibly happen next! He did understand one thing though-how to market downtown.

Ed Hanna was a man with a vision for Utica. I don't have any idea what the entire vision was, but I do know he wanted to make downtown special. The white lights were a start. Possibly emulating the cities of Europe that he and his wife were rumored to have traveled to extensively throughout their lives, he began to wrap downtown in white lights. Trees, fences, buildings-all were part of his grand scheme to make Utica the upstate "city of light."

Christmas was just the beginning. Back in those days, my friend Nick Jamsiuk, who worked in the Engineering Department, had but one job-keep the lights on! He would, during an evening of light watching, receive numerous calls from the mayor making sure that not a single light was out. Now, to know Nick was to realize that he was about the only person in town who could handle this kind of job. Unflappable, he approached his duties with a quiet demeanor that contrasted all the more with Hanna's  over the top personality.

The result was a downtown that looked exciting, especially at Christmas. People would actually drive down to "see the lights." There was a sense of magic back then, that something was happening in our little city. And, downtown was the beneficiary of this initiative.

I remember, many years ago, that one Christmas I decided to do all my shopping downtown. Every single gift was to be purchased at a shop that did not exist in a mall or a sprawl center. It was, I recall, the most "Christmasy" shopping experience I ever had.

It was early evening and a light snow was falling. Salvation Army bell ringers were stationed around the town and the shops were welcoming and warm.

Reid-Sheldon was my first stop. For gift selection, downtown or anywhere, Reid-Sheldon was the best choice. Lubere's was also on the list for the ladies in my life who needed that special article only carried by this quaint old survivor of the corset era.

Of course, Woolworth's was a needed stop for cards and wrapping paper. And, maybe a parakeet? Who can forget that, at one time not so long ago, we actually had a downtown store that featured a parakeet department!

Sam Montana had a sport shop and you could still buy a tie downtown.

It was a great time. And, I did it all on foot. No parking lots needed!

That was many years ago and the downtown that I remember then was a ghost of the place that my parents knew when they were young. Today, most of the shops that I knew are also long gone, victims of time, changing tastes and a general  abandonment of downtown as a relevant place to be.

Will we ever be able to shop for Christmas again downtown? Today, there are still many fine eating establishments-why not a gift certificate? Heidi Foote and Paul Balzano still operate their fine jewelry stores. There are several antique shops, Jerry Dischivio's on Oneida Square and Antiques Plus downtown. Hey, there is Tebb's Head Shop and Puff-n-Stuff, the new generation of downtown merchants!

So, it's not a total loss, it's just different. And with some help and encouragement from local government, downtown could rise again. Maybe not the same as we all knew, but vibrant, fun and relevant.

And maybe, just maybe, our new mayor will have a vision for downtown. Some white lights, maybe?

It couldnt' hurt!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Downtown Parking-Here We Go Again!

Oneida County Executive Tony Picente took a jab at another attempt this week to ressurect the Park Ave. parking proposal that was rejected back in 2007. His plan then, as now, is to basically close the portion of Park Ave. that fronts the Oneida County Office Building. In its place would be built additional parking that would serve county government. The traffic would be re-routed up John St. and around to Rutger.

The idea was flawed then. Unlike fine wine, it has not improved with age.

Let me make full disclosure. I admire and respect the county executive. We graduated from  Notre Dame together, a zillion years ago it seems. I think he has done an admirable job governing a county that has seemingly insurmountable issues. That makes it even harder for me to understand why he keeps pushing this rather bad idea.

First, I do not subscribe to the idea that we even need more parking downtown. Look at the maps. Look at the statistics. The parking problem is a perceived one, not a reality. Let's examine a few things that contribute to the lasting belief that there is not enough parking downtown.

The Union-Blandina Parking lot is usually almost empty. Take a drive down any day of the week. Why not make it a county lot? If the  county workers need parking, mandate that they park there. Its only a few steps from the Charlotte St. entrance. It would also relieve the congestion from county employees parking on the street.

The  same situation exists at the Boston Store parking garage. The upper deck is almost always empty! Take a look for your self-just about any day of the week, there it sits, a parking garage with no people using a great portion of it.

For that matter, why is Utica just about the only municipality in the state not to have parking meters? That would eliminate the problem of downtown workers parking on the streets all day. More open spaces on the street would signal to people that there is plenty of parking downtown.

The money collected from the meters could be allocated to downtown development, promotion and beautification. We have a city with a budget that allocates NOTHING to downtown. Zip. Zero.

If you are not going to maintain your central business district with the resources necessary to manage it properly, then do something! At least meters would be a steady stream of income. We know what we get when we depend on elected city officials. That's right. Zip. Zero. Nada!

The state did a huge disservice to the citizens of this city when it demolished it's crumbling parking garage and replaced it with a closed VIP lot for high ranking state officials. Never mind the struggling businesses and rank and file state office building employees. The big shots all get convenient, free parking!

Back to Park Ave. When the Oneida County office building, or the "waffle iron" as I like to call it, was built in the '60's, government always got its way. Whole neighborhoods of spectacular 19th and early 20th century architecture were wiped away for the sake of "urban renewal."The O.C. building was just the start.

 Now, we want to further sacrifice the city for the sake of government expansion. Enough already! I understand the desire to provide close, accessible parking. We do not, however, have the same land mass as the suburbs. We will never have the ability to offer mall type parking. And we should'nt. We are a city. We need to start acting like one.

The County Executive stated that "this is not the 1920's. We need to have good development in the city."
He's right. If this was the '20's, the project would be a done deal. No public input. Just a series of smoke-filled back-room deals. And that would be it.

No, it's not the 1920's. Thank God. We have a chance, through public discourse, to make sure the best decisions are made for our city. And, lead by advocacy groups like Landmark's, we actually have a chance to facilitate good development.

So here are a couple suggestions.

Take The Mauro's Glass, Franks Auto, and the carwash properties and relocate them. Somewhere in the city. And square off the campus, surround it with an iron fence, and create the parking that is apparently, so desperately needed.

It would vastly improve the look of the neighborhood. It would also provide more parking.

Or, maybe we should just offer free parallel parking classes. In all honesty, I have never, EVER had a problem finding a parking spot downtown. Maybe that's because, thanks to Gigliotti's Driving School, I am an expert parallel parker!  If more Utica drivers could parallel park, the perception of a parking problem would evaporate overnight.

And so would the dented fenders.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The North-South Arterial Debate-Who Will Win?

In Utica, projects of necessity seem to always become fodder for political debate, finger pointing and accusations of grandstanding. Case in point-the arterial project.

The local office of the DOT, headed up by regional director Mike Shamma, realized that the repair plan for the roadway could become a political hot potato. So, they conducted a series of very public hearings, design charettes and multiple plan presentations-beginning in 2009!

As Commissioner of UED at the time, I attended many of these presentations, met privately with DOT staff and was intimately aware, throughout the entire process, of what the end result would look like. I think what the designers and engineers came up with was the best plan for the city. Here are a few reasons why.

First, the firestorm of controversy seems to be the separation of West Utica from the rest of the city if the plan proceeds as designed. That conclusion is flawed. The bed of the arterial rests over the former Chenango Canal. Once the major North/South route for commerce, the canal connected Utica in a way that contributed to its growth in the second half of the 19th century.It also separated West Utica from downtown with water.

It was filled in after railroads took the place of canals. It separated West Utica now, not by lazily moving packet boats, but by roaring coal fed locomotives carrying their wares throughout the state.

Sometime after WW2, our regional planners decided that a major north /south roadway, this time for automobile traffic, was needed to grow the local economy. The arterial was born. Now, trucks and automobiles separated West Utica.

Popular urban legend in Utica tells the story of how the road was supposed to be elevated throughout the populated neighborhoods that it was to travel through. Supposedly, the politically connected pastor of Holy Trinity Church at the time was able to get the state to bring the roadway back to street level, arguing that it would somehow damage the church and school if it was built elevated as planned.

I do not know how much of that is true, but I do know this: numerous young residents of West Utica have been killed throughout the years trying to cross on foot or on bikes. Having an expressway running through the heart of a city will always be risky. Perhaps, had the road been elevated, these sons and daughters of Utica would have been spared the cruel fate that collided with their young lives on the arterial. We will never know.

Today, the plan presented minimizes the risk to the public in several ways. First, a pedestrian bridge at Sunset Ave will carry residents on foot and bikes safely over the traffic below. Second, the closure of Warren St. will stem the flow of pedestrian traffic at that popular crossing point, reducing risk even further. Finally, elevating the traffic over Court will transform that intersection from the crazy, confusing tangle of traffic and pedestrians into a safer, calmer and more inviting gateway to West Utica.

Sounds good to me. And, it looks good as well. Jim Zecca, the West Utica (now at-large) Common Council representative and Harmony Speciale, the West Utica activist and newly elected Oneida County Legislator, disagree with the plan. They feel that it will "cut off" West Utica. They favor a "boulevard" design that could help with economic development in the city.

They have a point. And they have every right to make that point.The fact is, this type of design will not work here. It was studied, debated, discussed ad-nauseum!  We all arrived at the same conclusion-there is just not enough developable land to make it feasable. The entire east side of the arterial is virtually land locked. So, there is only room for the west side to be developed. And, the amount of developable space on that side ( minus the Bossert site) is negligable as well. Why build a boulevard if there is not enough land to develop anyway?

What Zecca and Speciale need to make sure of is that the Bossert site gain greater access upon completion of the project. Developer after developer who have looked at the empty acerage agree on one major point-it needs access from north traveling traffic in order to make it attractive to potential investors.

West Utica residents have asked for years for retail/grocery store development at that site. That cannot happen without improved access.

Also, they should be fighting for the preservation of the two historic homes, slated for demolition, that sit under the current overpass on Lafayette St. These can and should be saved  by the DOT and preserved for future use. We cannot keep destroying our architectural heritage, what little we have left. Pick up these two gems and move them to another site!

Traffic on Rt. 12 is a nightmare from 3pm until 6pm every day. Give motorists a break and let them get to where they are going without having to sit and wait. Our area, our city will be better served with a roadway that keeps people moving!

As far as development is concerned, lets look at a boulevard that already exists-Oriskany! There is a project area ripe for development. The former Foster Paper site, The old baseball field, all ready to go. Let's put our resources over in that section of West Utica.

Stop stalling and build already!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Merry Christmas, Downtown Utica Style

Well the decorations are up-yeah, I know pretty sad, huh?

Now before I am accused of being negative, a "hater,"I love Downtown. Even though we have allowed so much of our history and architectural heritage to be swept away by irresponsible property owners and short sighted politicians, downtown still crackles with the urban energy that all cities possess.

So, while driving down Genesee St. the other night, I was once again subjected to the yearly unveiling of the tattered and threadbare "decorations" that should have long ago been sent to the landfill.

Why can't we do better? I always go back to the Utica as corporation theory. See, we are a 64 million dollar business and we present ourselves as some bankrupt, has been city.

Certainly, if the maintenance of the infrastructure of our downtown is any example of what to expect, I guess I should not be surprised by the pathetic holiday display that city hall is responsible for trotting out each year. Many of the street lamps that the half-lit wreaths adorn do not work either. And that's it. Nothing more.

Take a ride 40 minutes west to Syracuse. That is a city government that is self-aware enough that they have the dedication to give their citizens a reason to come downtown for the holidays. Oh, the mayor of Utica will wax on about how "we are broke," that we, "have to do less with more." Tired excuses from an exhausting parade of fools wasting time at 1 kennedy Plaza.

When will someone that is responsible for allocating our tax dollars realize that the City of Utica is a product that needs promotion. We need to polish up our "brand." In fact, we need to have a brand!

What do we want to be? A broken-down city with its better days well behind us? Today, the Mayor of Watertown attacked Utica on a radio show in that quickly went viral. So, Roefaro to the rescue. He was actually in city hall, sans tie, grabbing a soundbite defending "his" town. He is going to make it right. A little late, I think.

Too bad we are so busy defending ourselves that we refuse to see what may be wrong with our city. The mayor only talks about how great we are when we are attacked. City government celebrates the status quo and does nothing to change the narrative. And the debate continues. The lights stay broken. The Christmas decorations get put up yet another year and they still don't work.

Mayor-elect Rob Palmieri used the slogan during his campaign, "Utica deserves better." Let's hope that means better downtown maintenance and Christmas decorations that actually work!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Well, its here-Thanksgiving 2011, the start of the official holiday season.
And, considering how 2011 started, I sure have a lot to be thankful for!

First, I am thankful that my family and friends are healthy and all around to help me celebrate. With so much sickness, needless tragedy and heartache in the world today, to have wonderful friends and family is the greatest gift of all!

Here are some of the other things that I am grateful for:

I am thankful that Thornberry's has reopened as "Thornberry's Backstage."It was so weird last year to see the shuttered and lifeless remains of the once successful and bustling restaurant that I truly thought  was gone forever. Enter Mike Mahoney, whose talent and vision brought it back to life, this time for many more years to come!

I am thankful the Oneida Square Roundabout is as beautiful and successful as it is. Let's give thanks to the REAL person behind that vision, Mike Shamma of the regional DOT. His steadfastness and foresight has transformed Oneida Square. Lets hope it spreads to the rest of the city.

I am giving thanks today for Dave and Regina Bonacci, the latest in a series of investors to come downtown. Their Bleecker St. project is a magnificent example of what can be done to transform our city. Along with all the other visionary downtown projects-Strut, The Cobblestone Building, Piers and Blake, The Taylor and the Cook, Utica Roasters, Gerber's Grill, California Pizza, The Cage Sports Bar, The Stone Cellar, project developers that, in a time of economic hardship, have gone ahead and invested in our city to make their dreams come true. I am thankful for their dedication to my home town.

I am thankful that, in a year that started with great political upheaval, the BEST candidate is now the incoming mayor. When he was fired  by Roefaro in January along with my sister and I, Rob Palmieri could only dream of one day replacing the man who so callously and needlessly severed from public service a man who had devoted his entire life to the betterment of Utica. Well, he is set to be sworn in as Mayor of Utica in January. He will replace the man who fired him, and for that I give great thanks.

I am also thankful that Roefaro had the brains to withdraw from public life. Never in our history has a mayor so divided the city. Never in our history has a mayor treated his fellow citizens with such contempt by promoting an agenda that benefited his "friends and family."We have come out of a very dark period in our history. But, today the future looks bright, in part because the cronyism and underhandedness that has ruled the day here in Utica is about to evaporate with the termination of the current administration.

Finally, I am thankful for you, the readers of  this blog. My musings, observations and sometimes ramblings here have attracted a great audience. I hope that I have been able to bring you some insight into the inner-workings of our city and I respect your allowing me to share with you the experiences I have gained over the many years I have spent as a public servant.

Now, I am off to Albany with my Mom to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast at my sister's home!
Thanks for that!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Week In Review

WOW! What a week!

So much has happened, so many new roads to travel. The city is alive with new blood in city hall, new businesses opening, a palpable excitement that things are about to change-for the better this time.

First, let's talk about the election. It is apparent, even though the absentee ballots are not completely counted, that Rob Palmieri is the mayor elect. What an amazing change of fortune for him and the city!

When he was escorted out of city hall in January after having been fired by Roefaro, I knew that meant one thing-he would finally mount a campaign for the office. And, I knew he would be a formidable candidate. At first, the insiders wrote him off. They underestimated Rob's drive, ability and dedication to this goal.

In an unprecedented 5 man race, Rob came out on top. Now the real work begins. With a reported five million dollar deficit gifted to the city by Roefaro and his cronies, Rob will have his work cut out for him.

In other political races, it seems Tim Julian was finally and completely beat by Bill Morehouse for Common Council President. Good news for the city. The deficit was not created by Roefaro alone. Julian built the foundation by not making the tough decisions needed during his tenure as mayor. He frittered away our water trust fund by maintaining the status quo and rewarding HIS cronies with fat salaries and benefits (remember Al Pyleman anyone?) As a reward for that "gift", he asked the citizens to put him BACK in city hall! And the people spoke with a resounding NO!

In other events, Thornberry's, my old, beloved business, re-opened with Mike Mahoney at the helm. It's even more beautiful than ever, with great food and service. The former 257 Steakhouse opened this week as well. Now called "The Stone Cellar", it has also been tastefully redone and, although not yet serving food, it is sure to be a success!

I attended the Landmark's Society annual dinner meeting this past Thursday at Pier's and Blake, the fantastic, upscale steakhouse in the former Doyle Hardware building on Main Street. What a night! Vin Ficci and Stuart Bannatine, the owner/operators were there to receive a much deserved preservation award. Dave and Regina Bonacci attended as board members and honorees for an award received for their fabulous Bleecker Street loft/office conversion. After a night of delectable food and beverage, we closed the evening with the best chocolate martini ever!

As I said, what a week! Who ever said Utica has nothing to offer needs to spend some time with me. I will be happy to show you how to find fun and excitement in our little city!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thornberry's set to reopen Tuesday

Yes, its true-Thornberry's is going to re-open Tuesday for pre- theater dining. Now known as "Thornberry's Backstage Restaurant", you can enjoy the same great food in beautiful surroundings that you have come to know and love since 1995.

Does that sound like a promo ad? Well it should! I have been working very hard to find an operator since closing the restaurant back in May of 2010. And, it could not be just anyone. I wanted to find someone with the sensitivity to take what worked for so long and create a new, fresh experience with a nod to the past.

When my Dad and I opened the place, it seems ages ago, we both were committed to creating a dining spot that theater patrons could rely on for fast, affordable pre-show fare. Thornberry's thrived for those first couple of  years. In 1997, due to health concerns, Dad was forced to retire and we picked a close friend to buy his share of the company.

It's no secret that I did not always see eye to eye with this new partner. In spite of that, we were able to expand the business, double the seating capacity and contribute to the vibrancy of downtown. Sept 11, 2001 would change all that.

Overnight, corporate spending evaporated. Business crashed. We saw our income cut by a third. It was a very stressful, difficult time. Slowly, business returned. But it was nothing like the pre-Y2K years.

When the Stanley Theater announced its expansion plans in 2002, we were thrilled. An expanded theater with more shows would dramatically help our struggling business. Little did we know that the project would eventually contribute to our demise.

For close to three years, we were virtually cut off from downtown. Surrounded by a giant construction pit and a ten foot high chain link fence, people were not inclined to want to dine with us. Add to that the closure of the theater, with no theater patrons to rely on, we saw our business dry up.

In 2006 the NYS Department of Taxation decided to conduct an audit. That was the final nail in the coffin of Thornberry's. After weeks of dealing with a snarky state auditor, her conclusion was that  we did not pay enough sales tax. Using a convoluted formula that compares your business income to that of similarly sized operations, the state levied an additional 80 thousand dollars of, they claimed, unreported income! By the time they were through adding penalties and interest, it was up to 140 thousand dollars.

And, this mystery income was supposedly made during a period when the only patrons we had were the construction workers building the new stage.

By 2010 I had had it. We had been paying almost 1,500 a month to the state. By May of that year, we were told that they wanted the entire payment-no more monthly options. And after paying close to 50 thousand dollars back to the state, there was still a 140 thousand dollar balance.

It was like a loan sharking operation. I felt like I was dealing with the Mafia! When I appeared with my attorney and accountant at their downtown office, I was basically given no choice-close the restaurant or face the wrath of NYS. It did not take me long to make the decision.

After a couple of failed sale/lease deals and looming property tax and mortgage bills, I finally found an operator that was willing to revive this wonderful property. The close proximity to the stage door at the Stanley contributes to the new name, "Thornberry's Backstage Restaurant". The place has been redecorated, the decor and theme is similar and, thankfully, they chose to keep the name.

As the "landlord" I now have a great place to be proud of again. Some day I may even make a couple of bucks off the joint! But until then, I am happy to know it is in good hands and being taken care of like it was in the early years.

And I know that "Poppy Bob" is happy as well!

Thornberry's Backstage Restaurant is open for pre-theater dining, private parties and catering. It also serves dinner Friday evenings from 5-9.  Call 735-1702 for reservations.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Palmieri Apparent Mayoral Victor

On election day I was pondering the future of our city. Who would be the next mayor? As I have said many times, the mayor is the most important person in all of city government. Because Utica's charter gives the mayor a lot of power, it is really one person that can affect the destiny of our city.

As the day wore on, I thought of the possible outcomes of the balloting. I felt that the race was really between Palmieri/Cerminaro. Due to the fact that Democrats out number Republicans by a large majority in Utica, it seemed that Palmieri had an automatic edge. Anyone who follows Utica politics is sure to realize the folly of that statement! Nothing here is ever certain-especially elections.

The spoiler for Mike Cerminaro, as it turned out, was the fact that Cardillo stayed in the race. Most "good Republicans" are expected to close ranks after losing a primary and endorse the party's choice. Cardillo chose to soldier on and pursue his dream. That had a dramatic effect on the eventual outcome.

Palmieri and Cerminaro represent the last of the "old guard" political leaders of the late 80's and 90's. Along with former Common Counsel members such as the late Rodger Amodio, Barbara Klein, Roger Palek. (I also served for six years on the counsel with these folks), Palmieri and Cerminaro worked together many years on the Common Counsel. Rob was the only member of that group to have never run for mayor. We all did. We all lost.

It was also an unprecidented election in that there were a total of five candidates running. The vote split would affect the out come, but only in one way-Palmieri or Cerminaro?

No one ever really thought Sanita/Clemente actually had a shot at victory. Cardillo was a long shot as well. But their votes would make the decision about who would lead the city for the next four years.

And that split has apparently lead to Robert Palmieri being the peoples choice.

As a former candidate for the top position in city government, I know how difficult it is to mount a city wide campaign. These five men should be congratulated for their dedication to our city. Having such a large slate of candidates is a testament to the dire need for real leadership and dedication to the position that has been absent during the Roefaro administration. All five men articulated passion for Utica during the campaign and a desire to translate their vision into action. In the end, only one can be chosen. The choice was Palmieri.

Now its up to Rob to lead the city. Imagine, on January 13 he was fired by Roefaro and escorted by police out of City Hall. Today, he now replaces the man who fired him!

Only in Utica, folks. Only in Utica!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Election Day Is Almost Here-Will You Vote?

Well, the time has come folks! Election day in Utica is just two short days away. Will you vote?

In Tunisa, almost 85% of the population just voted for new leaders for the first time in their history. We will be lucky to have 20% of registered voters turn out.

This is a truly pivotal and important election. We have to select a leader from five candidates that are vying for the Mayor's office. All five of these men claim to have a plan to revive our city and bring us out of the darkness that has enshrouded our progress for so long.

Can they do it? Or is this just another ego-fest that soothes the insecurities of the kind of people that seek elected office in our town? You know the type-power hungry megla-maniacs that use the Mayor's office as a means to control, profit and preserve the status quo. Remember, the fish rots from the head down!

Take a close look at the platforms of each candidate and you will discover no real solutions being presented here, but rather each man is presenting himself as the person with the most experience and insight to solve our woes.

None of it will matter if you do not vote.

The margin of victory will come down to just a few votes. Make sure yours is in there.

See you at the polls!

Monday, October 31, 2011

SU Conference On Urban Revitalization-Why Am I The Only One There?

A conference on "Urban Revitalization: Transformation Through Art and Design"  was held Friday and Saturday, October 28th and 29th in downtown Syracuse at the very cool Warehouse Auditorium on W. Fayette St.

Sponsored By SU, the conference kicked off with a keynote lecture featuring Kyung-Won Chung, deputy mayor and chief design officer of Seoul, South Korea. Chung is the winner of the 2011 INDEX Award, which honors designs that target and solve the challenges and problems of human life. Chung, who is also a professor of industrial design at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, presented his work on various design projects in Seoul. These initiatives demonstrated how implementing good design into the city's policies and infrastructure has aided in urban revitalization.

Day two featured workshops geared toward revitalizing CNY(Syracuse). Divided into teams and guided by Industrial and interaction design professor and Senior COLAB Faculty Fellow Don Carr, practical, user friendly design solutions were developed using lessons learned from Dr. Chung's lecture the evening before.

I was a part of the "Rust2Green Utica" presentation. For those of you who are not familiar with it, R2G is Cornell University's research action initiative that explores, designs and implements strategies that promote urban sustainability in rust-belt cities. R2G Utica is the first in what will be a series of partnerships across the state.

While at the conference I could not help but wonder-where are all the folks from Utica/Rome? No one from our region it seems ever takes advantage of the amazing resources available through SU and the incredible number of urban-oriented programming that is constantly being offered there.

This is the fourth event that I have either attended or been a speaker at, and seems as if I am the only one from our region who is ever there. No one representing Utica, Rome or Oneida County. No one from EDGE or the Chamber or Genesis. No one. Ever.

That's funny, because from where I stand, that's exactly what our region desperately needs. To learn from the experts and apply that knowledge to a new way of thinking about how to remake our urban centers and our local economy.

R2G Utica cannot do it alone. This initiative will only be successful if true partnerships are formed with the local governments and groups that have the power to influence and change the way we think about who we are and how our policies have thus far contributed to the failure of our region.

In the meantime, I will continue to attend and learn and share that knowledge here with all of you who take the time to read my blog.

In the end, we will turn it around. It only takes time and dedication, and I have plenty of both!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Utica VS New Hartford-is there hope for compromise?

As I drove over Oxford Rd., I couldn't help but notice how incongruous St. John's Church is from the surrounding neighborhood. Juxtaposed by a melange of late 19th and early 20th century architectural styles, the ultra modern design of the church and it's placement on the corner is visually jarring and out of place.

I am sure that before the church and it's vast acres of parking were constructed sometime in the 60's, the site was home to numerous small, quaint village homes. Now, the lots are cleared of any evidence of the families that used to inhabit the humble residences located there.

I could not help but wonder, why? Did the people of New Hartford really need this church? Was Historic St. John's downtown just to far to drive every Sunday? What a wonderful thing it would be if the suburban parishioners of all denominations of churches would have stayed in the original city parishes that not only served the urban neighborhoods but the entire region as well.

Now, before I get calls and e-mails from members of St. John's New Hartford, I am sure that the parish has done charitable works and is a credit to the diocese. Fair enough.

My problem is that most suburban development was redundant to what already existed in the city. Sprawl without growth. We have traded the urban resources for replacement in the suburbs, and that has created the economic disparity between the two.

But sadly that's not how we roll here in America. Unlike Europe, we abandon our churches located in urban neighborhoods because now, their location is "inconvenient." Once we attain wealth and status, we don't want to be seen in the city of Utica.

My home parish, St. Francis de Sales on Eagle St., was a victim of this mindset. A magnificent structure designed by noted architect Fredrick Gouge, it was closed by the Syracuse Diocese several years ago and merged with St. John's Downtown.

Now, St. John's alone is responsible for the ministry once shared by the staff and parishioners at St. Francis. The Hope House, Health Friends, all the outreach and ministry to the sick, poor, and forgotten people of our community-these are but a few of the things that this humble parish once did. The magnificent doors of St. Francis are locked, its vibrant frescoes flaking away into oblivion, the artifacts destined to be stripped and sold at auction to the highest bidder.

A "for sale" sign is attached to a building that for over 100 years was a beacon of hope, comfort and solitude to hundreds of people.

The suburbs have their big, modern, maintenance free monoliths that bad planning practices allowed to be constructed during the 60's and 70's. No poor or forgotten people here! Lot's of wealthy, mostly white members with plenty of surface parking. And you don't even have to lock your cars!

The shift of  all denominations of parishes from the city to the suburbs is no different than the retail exodus from downtown to the malls. This narrative has been repeated time and time again throughout our nation. Unlike the old European countries that had landlocked urban centers, we have plenty of space to develop. Dairy farm? Apple orchard? Who needs 'em! Our development mindset has for 50 years has favored the destruction of the urban to be replaced by development in the sub-urban.

To do that, we had to obliterate acres of wetlands, natural habitat and 200 years of agrarian culture. In exchange we got destroyed city neighborhoods, racial inequity and a have-have not society.

But hey, we got lots and lots of surface parking! And, you can practically drive your car right into the store.

Thankfully, the trend today across our country is moving away from natural habitat destruction in the areas around urban communities. We have discovered that the amount of money it takes to build and maintain the infrastructure to support this kind of sprawl-without-growth development model is not available any longer.

But not in the Utica area! No sir, we are gonna keep building in the suburbs. A recent OD article quoted the New Hartford Town Supervisor as saying, "There is no end to the growth of development in New Hartford."Even EDGE, the premier (only) real development agency in Oneida County has a zero urban development model. We are still stuck in the '80's business park concept.

Lucky for us. Fortunately, there is an end to the amount of resources needed to support this type of growth. Hopefully, we will realize that before it is too late.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

State of the City

Well folks, there you have it. The last, and I mean final, State of the City address hosted by outgoing Mayor, David R. Roefaro.

What did the Mayor say? What is the state of the city? To be absolutely fair, I did not attend the address. I have heard reports about what was said, what initiatives were presented as successes of the Roefaro Administration. Let's take a look at a few of these.

The Mayor touted downtown development as one of the major achievements of his administration. And he is right. There is a lot of positive activity going on in Baggs's Sq. East and West, Genesee and Bleecker St. I should know. My three years as Commissioner of Urban and Economic Development was spent scrambling daily to identify initiatives, assemble funding and match developers to projects. Hey, someone did it. And it was my job, so I will take a little bit of the credit.  Really, it is not any one in City Hall who should be congratulated. It's the people who are taking a chance, the creative and dedicated Utica citizens who have taken a big gamble and invested in our city. I got to know many of them while working together on their individual projects. They did not choose to invest because of the Mayor or anyone in City Hall. They did it because they are entrepreneurs with belief that this can be a better city.

So, I guess the Mayor forgot  to mention me. Well, an oversight due to his busy schedule, I am sure.

The Mayor also took credit for the long stalled Harbor Point project. I will give him credit for being the best "schmoozer" we have had as mayor in a very long time here in Utica. He can slather on the charm, and it sure worked with people like the former Canal Corporation Commissioner Carmella Mantello.  It seemed former DEC head Pete Grannis was relieved that Roefaro was a lot easier to get along with than his predicessor! Add former Assembly representative Roann Destito to the mix, and you had an unbeatable trinity of Albany power that jumpstarted the entire process.

Ok, so we have a harbor. Or, the beginnings of one. As I recall, Roefaro used it in last years address. Hmm, I think he may have used it the year before as well! But, talking about it and taking repeated bows for it doesn't make it something that affects our lives and the city in a positive way. It hasn't provided any jobs and it sure doesn't generate any tax revenue. It's something thats going be great. Someday.

But for today, we have to be happy that, according to the Mayor, he and his loyal boyhood friend, Public Safety Commissioner Dan Labella, have made the city a much safer place to live. Never mind that the plummeting crime statistics presented are occuring throughout the country. It just so happens the United states is a much safer place today than it was 4 years ago. Hey, let the guys take the credit. Who's going to be the wiser?

I noticed that the Mayor made no mention of our precarious finanacial condition and the fact that he drained the last remaining water trust fund to balance his budgets. What he should have said was that the state of the city was "status quo." Over the last four years, no tough decisions were made to change the way we do business in city government. He kept on spending and spending and, according to inside sources, we may be facing a 5 million dollar defecit in the 2012 budget.

Roefaro didn't take a bow for that one.

Finally, Roefaro created a new department. Headed up by Paul Buckley as Commissioner, the new department of Film and Arts and Culture should do a lot to help turn this town around.

HUH? Is he kidding?

Let me say that Paul Buckley is a great guy. Extremely talented and dedicated to Utica, he  has always done his best to put together promotional videos that make our city shine.

The problem is, the city in Buck's films is not the real city of Utica. We are a city of great hope and potential, but one that is rife with seemingly insurmountable problems that vex the elected officials we elect and entrust to solve them. Creating this new department will not change the narrative. It will continue to camoflague the lack of ability and dysfunction that is the hallmark of the Roefaro administration.

So, out he goes. "We are all in this together." That was the rallying cry in 2008 when Roefaro swept into office with what seemed great potential to make substantial change to a broken system. In a few instances, timing and luck helped make it seem like those changes would happen.

Four years later, we know how the story ended.

Sadly. And with a whimper.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Manny's Cheesecake-when will the city act?

Today I drove past the charred debris that is all that remains of the Manny's Cheesecake building. I have one word for this mess-horrifying!

I cannot imagine being forced to live next door to this scene of such total destruction. It is an abonimation that nothing has been done to eradicate the remains of this tragedy, in the most high profile of locations and smack in the middle of the Scenic and Historic District of our city.

Directly across the street the automated bill board still promotes Roefaro and his "Renaissance City."What kind of city leader would allow this condition to remain? Where is the Codes Department?

I love the old saying, "The fish rots from the head down." In this case, it's all that needs to be said. A lame duck administration is the underlying cause of this travesty. Apparenty, no one cares. I wonder, does anyone in city hall even bother to come to work any more?

In the past, the city would adddress the situation by taking the property owner to City Court and pursue reimbursement through an attachment of the proceeds from the insurance settlement. In this case, it was reported that no insurance was held on the property. So what now? Do we just let the rotted, rusted, fetid  garbage and debris just sit there throughout the winter? What about the rats and vermin that is sure to be attracted to this mess? Who is going to step in and provide some LEADERSHIP?

That, my friends, is a dirty word in Utica government. That is the thing that we have lacked for over 40 years in the Mayor's office. Leadership. Loyalty. Love of our city. Ability to achieve consensus and get things done.

We keep electing men whose only goal, it seems, is to move on to higher office. And, all before they actually achieve any sort of meaningfull change here in  the city that we entrust them to run.

So, the corner of the Parkway that for years had a warm, welcoming business on it is now home to the same type of ruins that have been so pervasive throughout our city for far too long. And we sit, dumbfounded, wondering when someone in charge will act. Do something. Make it right.

Hopefully, the next mayor will have a plan and act on these kinds of issues. Until then, we better all hope and pray that we do not need the current one to make a decision on something important that affects our city.

If the mess on the Parkway is any indication of what to expect, we are in deep trouble!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Why,Oh Why Can't Our Street Lamps Work?

After enjoying a Friday night dinner out, I drove home through the inky dark, mid-October streets of Downtown Utica. The city was rather active with an event at the Aud and the dinner crowd at Ancora! next to the Stanley filtering out into the street.

I was perplexed about one thing-why our decorative, historic "acorn' style street lamps are in such  a terrible state of disrepair. It is an embarrasment to the city and dangerous as well. Take a look next time you drive downtown. It's not only maddening but also totally unfair to the dedicated businesses and property owners that remain plugging away in our central business district.

Every other lamp is either out or missing. They don't even have matching bulbs or shades! Some are a pink hue, some bright white and still others a strange blueish-white that seems to give off no light at all.

In the daytime, they are a mixed bag of peeling black paint exposing the old green color underneath and broken bases. In some cases, actually exposing the wiring!

Whats up? The Engineering Department in City Hall,  lead by Deputy Commissioner Goran Smilic, is in charge of this mess. Why don't they seem to notice? Why doesn't anyone seem to care? In a city with a 60 million-plus annual budget, you think somebody could figure out how to keep the lights on!

Maybe they have "more important" issues to address. But, really folks, isn't regular maintenance of main street lighting important? If we can't master something so basic, how can we possibly address the bigger problems that plague our infrastructure?

What does this lack of basic housekeeping say about us to the visitors to our city that stay in the downtown hotels? I know what I would think if I visited a city that had lights all over downtown that were either broken or out!

Lets tell city hall to fix our lights NOW!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mayor Corey Booker at the Stanley

Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, appeared last evening (Oct. 19) at the first Community Foundation Speaker Series at the Stanley Theater. Known for his inspirational speeches and, being one of the most influential politicians in our country, Mayor Booker did not disappoint the nearly capacity first floor audience.

What struck me the most was the fact that, here was one man who managed to change the entire narrative in Newark. Once known as a gritty, crime riddled and seedy city, Newark has just emerged from its first month in over 40 years without a single homicide!

This kind of transformation cannot happen without leadership. As Mayor Booker put it, "Consistent, persistent and determined." The kind of leadership we have not seen in Utica in many, many years.

When Mayor Booker was first elected to the Common Council of Newark, he became frustrated. The status quo was in full flowering and he could not get anything done! The Mayor at the time was less than helpful and his fellow council members would consistently vote against any initiative that he put forth.

Frustrated, he almost quit politics. But, he persevered and with the help of average citizens and with their support, he eventually began to change the mindset of government officials in Newark.

Is that really all that different from Utica? We are basically in the same place Newark was when Cory Booker took the helm and began to run the city. We have had zero leadership from the mayor's office.
Utica has been a rudderless ship without a captain for so many years we would not recognize a true leader if we fell over him.

Spend an hour listening to Cory Booker. There's a leader! I kept thinking, how lucky for Newark. To have such a person, of knowledge, vision and compassion with real leadership ability. What could we do here in Utica if we were fortunate to have such a person as our Mayor?

As I looked around the theater I saw several members of the Common Council, including Jerry Kraus, Jim Zecca and Frank Vescera. Mayoral candidate Rob Palmieri and his wife Sue were also in attendance. As current and potential leaders of our city, I hope they paid close attention to the words of the Mayor.

If they did, the surely heard when he stated that "The arts fuels economic development."In a time when government is ready to slash funding from arts organizations, cultural venues and libraries, is was comforting to hear a political leader defend these programs as being important to the overall development and economy of any community.

I hope they paid attention when he told how Newark gave abandoned and derelict buildings to artists to be transformed into lofts, galleries and studios. Utica is an arts town. We need to embrace the same kind of vision that Newark did to attract and grow our arts community.

Utica has deep, vast and systemic problems. The question is, are these problems insurmountable? As Mayor Booker so eloquently stated, "Do you want to be a thermometer or a thermostat?"We have been a thermometer in Utica for so many years the mercury is about dried up. Its time we stop letting external forces shape the community we are. It's time to take those forces and use them to create the community we want to be.

It's all about attitude and vision. Listening to Cory Booker last evening, I began to realize that we are the only thing holding us back.

Let's change that!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

How To Save Utica's Old Buildings

The Observer Dispatch editorial today called for a "Fair, Logical Plan To Save Worthy Buildings." The editorial makes some good points. In other areas they are way off  base.

The article states that "It is not governments place - or anyone else's - to tell people what they can or cannot do with property they have purchased."

That's not entirely true.

Local government has for years told people what they can or cannot do. It's called zoning. These laws have been enacted to protect certain areas from incompatible development. For instance, say you buy a building on Genesee Street - an old carriage house. You can't turn it into a used car lot or an auto body shop. These types of uses have been prevented by zoning laws. You cannot take an old mansion and turn it into a drug treatment facility. You can't put a commercial use into a residential neighborhood.

These zoning laws are all in place to guide and even tell people what they can and cannot do with a property. Sometimes, an owner is vehement about wanting to change the use of a building. In that case, they may apply for a use variance. The Zoning Board will hear the case and make a decision based on neighbor input, case law and impact on the surrounding area.

Another way we tell people what they can and cannot do with their buildings is through the Scenic and Historic Ordinance. In the early 1990's, as a result of the unnecessary demolition of #2 Rutger Park, I was determined to make sure that this kind of destruction of our historical buildings be prevented from ever happening again. As Councilman in the 5th Ward, I helped to create the Scenic and Historic District and the law that prevents people from destroying, altering or introducing an incompatible use into a building in the district.

So, you see we do tell people what they can or cannot do all the time.

Here's the problem with the conclusion that the OD makes with it's opinion that Utica needs a full time, dedicated and aggressive economic development director. They're right. We need one. The problem is, the position we keep filling is the administrator for the HUD grant. And, because of that, we get very little economic development.

Let me explain.

If you become the "Commissioner" of UED, as I was for 3 years, you quickly discover that you have very little to offer a potential investor in the city. The only money we have allocated for economic development is tied to job creation in low to moderate income neighborhoods. That's great as a program to help people, but it's not much of an incentive to locate your company here.

The amount of money is also pretty meager. Under current program guidelines, we only offer a 15,000 low interest loan for every full time job created up to 30% of the total cost of the project. We also offer a 5,000 facade 1-1 matching grant (2-1 if your project is in the Scenic and Historic District.)

That's it. It makes it impossible to travel around (no money is allocated for travel) and try to attract businesses to Utica. Not one dime of general fund money is allocated to economic development. We have nothing to offer.

When it mentions the disaster that occurred at the hands of Diana Lenska, the self-proclaimed princess that bought and then destroyed 294 Genesee St, the OD fails to mention that they had a hand in the eventual outcome. You see, we at city hall never really believed that she was a true princess! What we were faced with was a woman who paid cash for an important structure that we wanted to protect. It was in our best interest to work with her.

When the OD broke the story that she may be a "fake," the gun-shy Roefaro administration immediately ordered us to pull back on any assistance that we were planning to give to her organization.  She also lost the backing of her benefactors and the fate of the building was sealed.

I am not suggesting that the OD look the other way when a person or organization comes to town and sets up shop. In this case it seemed that the editorial zeal to expose this woman as a fraud was put ahead of any other concerns and the result was the eventual destruction of the building.

In any case, Utica does desperately need some form of Economic Development initiative. The OD is right on in that regard. What we must demand is that this be above and beyond the HUD program. That is the only vehicle we have used for the past 38 years. A quick drive through our central business district will convince you that it has not worked.

And,what about EDGE? Why do we, year after year, allow Oneida County and EDGE to turn their backs on the city? And, unlike just about every other successful city, why doesn't Utica have any private economic development agencies working on our turn around?

We'll talk about that in the next post!

Happy Sunday!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

ALSA/APA Convention at the Radisson

The City of Utica was host in late September to the ALSA/APA Convention at the Radisson Hotel downtown. This convention brought over 100 Planners and Landscape Architects to the heart of Utica for a three day convention that travels throughout the state to a different location each year.
I was part of the "Rust to Green" presentation, along with Paula Horrigan, Professor of Landscape Architecture at Cornel University, Jamie Vanucci, formerly with Cornell and now with SUNY, and Pam Jardieu, R2G Core member and independent grant writer. After a presentation to about 50 convention attendees we took them on a walking tour of Utica.

The reaction was mixed. Most of the group had been to Utica in the past but some had never seen the city. It was painfully obvious that our city had seen better days and there was a lot of work to do. Starting at the Radisson we proceeded south to Oneida Square and the roundabout construction site.

The grand boulevard of Genesee St. is what impressed everyone the most. Unfortunately, the condition of the infrastructure and many of the buildings tarnishes the luster of the main street our town.

It's not that this group of urban professionals was being critical of our city. If anything, they were perplexed as to how and why we, as citizens, and our government would let Utica slip so far without trying to stop it. The consensus was this: you have a beautiful, unique and historical city. Now get to work and fix it up!

Several of the members of our group were design professionals based in Saratoga, NY. After a bit of ribbing about the "condition" of their city we had a serious talk about the similarities between Utica and Saratoga and how we could emulate the rebirth of that city. The great thing was, no body rolled their eyes and chided me for having the gall to compare Utica to Saratoga! Local residents and even elected officials just don't see the connection. Thankfully, our visitors did.

You see, both towns have a major artery that cuts through the central business district. Both have great old architecture. Saratoga has the track, we have The Stanley, MWP, the Utica Zoo, Saranac Brewery, Union Station........

 In other words, we have similar strengths, we just don't believe in ourselves the way Saratogans do. But, it wasn't always that way.

In the 1970's downtown Saratoga and it's bordering neighborhoods were in trouble. Years of decline, no planning, rampant demolition and people and business fleeing to the suburbs had left its mark. And it wasn't pretty.

Sound familiar?

We have been in a similar situation for years. All we have to do now is emulate the care and devotion to our city that Saratoga did, and we could have a similar success story.

Back on tour, the group was impressed with the beauty of our Public Library and the grounds of MWP/Pratt. The roundabout construction site managed to capture the attention and even our friends from Saratoga admitted that we had beat them on this one!

The final stop was the Stanley. If you really want to wow any visitor to Utica, just take them to the Stanley! The staff was very accommodating and mouths were open at the grandeur of the house and especially the new chandelier.

A luncheon featuring Peter Fleisher,  the executive director of Empire State Futures, delivering the keynote address  concluded the conference.  As I sat there I could not help but feeling proud and challenged at the same time. How are we going to change our city for the better? How are we going to put an end to the negative narrative that has for so many years held us back from achieving the greatness that has been so elusive?

The answers to those questions can only come from us.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bleecker Street-A Preservation Success Story

Today, let's focus on a preservationist's fantasy come true-Bleecker Street!

Last evening I had the pleasure of enjoying a glass of wine on the rooftop terrace of Dave and Regina Bonacci's chic new loft dwelling downtown.

The building that they brought back to life was, many moons ago, Gerald's Mens Shop (for those of you old enough to remember!) More recently it was TR's After Hours, a breakfast place for the early morning bar crowd.

That's the location I remember. As a bartender next door at Yesterday's, Louie DeGeronimo's celebrated 80's dance club, I fondly remember the "Hi Honey" greeting given to all the inebriated patrons by Thelma Roy, the hostess/owner. TR was a no-nonsense gal, who served up witty reparte with her coffee and eggs. Her chef, Congetta, was a large, matronly woman with a beautiful Italian accent and a grandmotherly countenance. Together they made quite a team. And, there was never any trouble with drunks, because these two were as tough as they were friendly!

In any event, after TR retired (she has since passed away) the Food Bank took over the building. Around the same time, the bar next door was having trouble of its own. A succession of owners after Louie D. sold the place had reduced the once hip and beautiful nightspot to a run-down drinking hole with nightly fights and trouble a plenty.

That's when City Hall stepped in. Tim Julian, Mayor at the time and Tim Doyle, Urban Renewal Director, hatched a plot to rid downtown of these "eyesores." Never mind they were early 19th century mercantile structures, built the same time the Erie Canal flowed through Downtown bringing commerce and wealth to Utica.

They must be demolished decreed the pair, and they set out to accomplish that deed. And, what was set to take their place? Why, parking of course. Surface parking, the holy grail of development. Build more parking and the people will flock to the city!

At the same time City Hall was getting the 'dozers ready, a team of preservationists set out to thwart the plan. Lead by Landmark's member Pam Jardieu, we met to try to figure a way to stop this crazy plan. You see, it was late 2007, and Julian was up for re-election. We figured if he won, we would have to fight the traditional way, perhaps getting a court order or injunction. But if he lost...

Aided by several City Hall "insiders" we managed to delay the asbestos abatement long enough to see the results of the election. If the abatement had gone ahead as planned, the roofs would be stripped from the buildings and that would truly signal their demise. The city had already allowed the former owners to totally strip the interiors of any thing of value and had cut the utilities in the street.

Well, election day came and Julian lost. The block was saved.

Working in City Hall in early 2008, Pam and I devised a plan to save the block for good by matching new owners with the buildings. Not just any owners but stewards, people who appreciated historical structures. More importantly, we also wanted to bring new life downtown.

Enter Dave and Regina. A local architect with incredible talent and sensitivity toward old buildings and their reuse, this was the kind of project he had been looking for. Having left the DuRoss Building in the Utica Business Park after it's sale, Dave wanted a new home for his office and an upstairs loft apartment for him amd his wife.

Pam and I got to work. We wrote a Main Street grant for 500,000 and submitted it to the Common Council for approval. Unfortunately the Councilman who represented the district, Frank Vescera, was not comfortable with giving money to potential developers and the permission to apply for the grant was not given.

We were stunned. How could the Common Council not grab this opportunity and run with it?
Not to be stopped, we continued our search. Dave and Regina were in no matter what.

We then found George Heath and Wade McCrite, two South Florida transplants that had recently completed a stunning restoration of their big brick Italianate mansion on the corner of South Street and Park Avenue.  These men were as dedicated to saving old buildings as any one on Landmarks, and they purchased the Yesterday's building and the corner building as well, the former home of Meyda Tiffany.

The middle building, formerly Meelan Floors, was the last one sold. A Bosnian Family, pursuing their American dream, purchased it and in short order had it completed and opened as a coffee shop and martial arts studio.

The block began to see new life and activity. Aided by CDBG dollars that I allocated from our budget, the buildings came back. Life came back.

And, Dave and Regina moved in! Stunning beyond belief, you have to see the building and Dave's innovative design to appreciate what is possible-even in Utica!

Strut, the chic night spot designed and created by George and Wade, is also a testament to what can be done with vision, sweat equity, and a little help from government. An industrial yet elegant feel to the place gives you the "I must be in Manhattan feel"-yet no, you are in Utica.

And to think, at one time not too long ago, the best use that almost happened on the block was surface parking!

In the end, Pam and I applied for a second round of Main St, grants and we got one. An additional 500,000 is now in the works for Bleecker St.

Stories like these will bring our city back. And I am glad that, in a small way, I was able to help make it happen.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Plundering Utica

My fellow blogger "Strikeslip" has a concern that he voiced after my articles on the destruction of 294 Genesee St. at the hands of the self-proclaimed Princess Diana Lenska. He refered to it as "plundering Utica."

Our once magnificent city has been a victim of this type of abuse for many years now. The culmination of the systematic looting of our precious architectural history has reached a peak with the dismantling of the magnificent French Renaissance interiors of the Mattisson Mansion at 294 Genesee St.

The plunder of Utica has taken many forms throughout the years. The destruction of the home of Vice-President James Sherman in the 1940's for a cheesy strip center. The demolition of the park-like campus of The House of the Good Shepherd in the 1950's for a motel and bowling alley.

In the 1960's we looted our precious Upjohn designed City Hall before we smashed it into oblivion. Oil portraits of the former Mayors of Utica, Maps and original furnishings were discarded or stolen by political insiders. We even demolished the  original home of the Oneida Historical Society on the triangle island on Park Ave. and replaced it with a gas station!

Whole neighborhoods were wiped out in the 1970's and 80's. People travel to the streets they grew up on and find nothing but weed choked empty lots and garbage and despair.

When does it stop? When is enough enough? Do we care so little for our history and the things that give us our identity that we will systematically destroy, loot, and demolish anything for profit and greed?

We have allowed our buildings to become foreclosed on by a city government that is not willing or able to protect them. They sit empty and abandoned and are soon stripped of their copper plumbing, fixtures and anything of value. Only then does the city step in, declares them unsalvageable and proceeds to demolish the remaining shell.

This scenereo has happend repeatedly over the years. Elected officials think they have the exclusive right to make every decision about the future of our city without any imput or direction from the citizens. Groups like Landmarks have to fight tooth and nail to save every endangered building from destruction.

We get little or no help from our elected representatives. And the destruction marches on.

The Scenic and Historic Comission was implemented in response to the unnecessary destruction of #2 Rutger park in the early 1990's. Even with those controls in place, the destruction continues. Someone "forgets" to check, and a demo permit is issued by mistake. A landlord neglects his property for so many years without any Codes Department intervention that, on the verge of collapse, it becomes an "emergency demolition."

The city that we all know and love will cease to be if we do not stop this systematic looting and destruction. We must demand that city hall listen and act.

If they refuse, we need to make sure they hear us-loud and clear!

"Polish Princess" spokesperson responds to criticism

Today, it was reported in the O.D. that Frank Coiro, spokesperson for the "Princess" is aghast as to why anyone would be upset by the destruction of the Mattison Mansion interiors. "It's our stuff," he reportedly said. "We can do anything we want with it."

That shows the true carpetbagger nature of this duo. Blow into town, expect the citizenry to fall at your feet and throw money at you because you are "royalty."

Are they serious? The problem from the beginning was that the woman claiming to be a Princess never really was able to prove it. She had some very impressive photos taken with some very important people. But, her supposed lineage to any royal family was blurry and it seemed that what she really wanted was to be financially supported by the people of Utica in the same way she had been supported by her Hong Kong connections.

And who are these Hong Kong billionares anyway? Why would they buy a house for 200k-cash?
And then let a woman without the means to take care of it live there? Its a story that could only happen in Utica!

Now, Lenska, Coiro and their "Staff" have scurried away to an undisclosed location, leaving the house virtually abandoned, it's precious artifacts crated up and shipped off for auction somewhere. They are going to reestablish her "Royal Embassy" somewhere in Europe.

Mr. Coiro is outraged that I made a big deal about it. He blames me for the uproar in the community. If I had not showed up when I did, they could have mysteriously dissapeared into the night and no one would be the wiser.

As luck would have it, I did show up, and now everyone knows the destruction they left behind. Hopefully, one of the Hong Kong big shots will step in and make things right. They did finance this mess in the first place.

Sorry Frank, you and your "Princess" did not have the right to do what you did. And, hopefully, you will be forced to make it right as well.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bagg's Square West

Well, with roof repaired, hopefully the leaks are banished for one more winter!

Bagg's Square-for many Utican's, Bagg's Square is just a name from the past. They don't remember the Bagg's Square that I do, although rather murkily. Most of the important buildings and infrastructure of the "Square" was leveled in the early 1970's for the North Genesee St. overpass.

For almost 170 years before the DOT decided to wipe away an entire section of downtown, the commercial district of Utica was bookended by Bagg's Square to the north and Oneida Square to the south. In between, the social, cultural and commercial epicenter of our region-downtown-was the economic driver that almost everyone had a connection to.

But Bagg's Square, that was where the real power was located. In the 19th century, Bagg's Hotel stood on the site next to the present day Children's Museum. A grand Greek revival ediface, it had elegant ballrooms and a genteel lobby that welcomed such notables as Charles Dickens. Eventually purchased by the Proctor Brothers, it was demolished by Maria Proctor during the depression to create jobs for unemployed Utica men.

Mrs. Proctor had a small memorial building erected on the site. It's trim was designed by Tiffany, with the pyramidal shaped roof topped by a cast bronze eagle-a favorite theme of the Proctor's! It was ment to hold the records of 130 years of thge Hotel's operations. Unfortunately, these disappeared shortly after it was completed.

Bagg's Hotel was not the only Hostelry located on the square! There was also the Hotel Yates, on the West side of Genesee St. It was a more simply designed structure, catering to businessmen and travelers on the Erie Canal.

The Long Block or the Marble Block, as it was sometimes called, was also on West Genesee. It's  facade of white marble gave it its name, but that impervious material could not guarantee its survival. It was destroyed in a spectacular fire that would be the same fate for several other magnificent buildings on and around Bagg's Square.

Today, only a trace of the original neighborhood survives. But withinin those historical and storied buildings, new life is emerging. Bagg's Square West is alive with activity and is destined to become a hip, funky and cool new-old place to be!

Many years ago, I found myself on Hotel St. How I got there was anyones guess, for along with destroying everything they could, the DOT also made it virtually impossible to get to Bagg's Sq. W.
I was flabbergasted! Here was an intact remnant of the glory days of the city. It had the feel of a place that needed to be discovered. It was waiting.

 Twenty-Five years later, it's still waiting. But, little by little it is being discovered. And the people who are discovering it are the ones it needs the most.

Take, for instance, Lynne Mishalanie. The under-appreciated, creative genius behind Utica Monday Nite bought her building almost 15 years ago. Covered in green cement, the facade was waiting to be exposed. After peeling back the veneer with the distinctive "Utica Rubber Works" lettering, lynne set about creating a gorgeous storefront building to house UMN and a gallery that has featured works from local artists.

Today, Frank Elias has done the same thing at his "Utica Roasting" location. It's contagious. Chris Talgo, of Varick Street's "Nail Creek" has purchased a building in between Frank and Lynne. He is going to open a hip storefront restaurant.  The kind of place we have to go to NYC or Boston to enjoy.

You see, Utica can change. We can move ahead. This city can be as good or as bad as we choose to make it. It's all in the way we think.

We need more Lynne's, Frank's, and Talgo's! And, if some of the other stories unfolding within the walls of the buildings on Bagg's Square West are told, we will have them!

Bagg's Square West

Bagg's Square West is in the midst of a transformation. Unfortunately, I have to fix a leak in my roof, so no time to write today! Look for this story coming soon.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dan Minor's Blog featuring comments from "Garbageman."

Dan Minor, citybeat reporter for the O.D. has a well written, insightful and oft times perceptive take on  city government. I got to know "Diggin Dan" ( not to be confused with Digger Dan) during my three most recent years in city hall. A pretty cool guy. But, don't let that placid exterior fool you. He didn't get the "Diggin" nickname for nothing!

Dan has reported all the news during the Roefaro take-down of Utica! He only missed one story-The Growest Scandal!  Poor Dan FINALLY got to take a vaca from the dysfunction and hijinx of 1 Kennedy Plaza and how is he rewarded? We schedule the blow-the-lid off press conference while he is on the road!

In any event, I didn't set out to give a history of Dan's experiences in city hall. I was checking his blog out and, of course, the number one comment was posted by my biggest fan, "Garbageman."

I wonder, who is this guy (or lady) and why does he have such a, well let's just say, a rather colorful opinion of me? I admire his obsession and I hope that he is never dissapointed by me. I mean, if I was perfect what the heck would he have to write about?

I have a couple ideas of the "Identity" of my cyber-stalker. You see, when you want to be completely anonymous, and yet you have such deep seated emotions about your subject, you always slip a bit here and there.

And Garbageman has slipped on the bananna peel that fell from his can a few times now.

I am always amused by his "I know you are but what am I" style of criticism. He is angry, bitter and probably a lonely little man who feels that anyone in the public eye deserves his brand of belittlement.

I wonder, if Garbageman  redirected that energy to an activity that could benefit the city, maybe he would feel less anger and frustration over the sad state of our hometown. Maybe he could come out of the shadows of his dark and creepy blogosphere and shine the light of positive, redirected energy on the areas that need it the most.

Nah. On second thought, stay where you are, my purveyor of all that is negative and trashy and bad. I have come to rather look forward to your ramblings of miscontent.

Especially when the subject is...yours truly!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Who's Running City Hall?

Today, while enjoying my morning coffee, I had to endure yet another O.D. article that mentioned how, along with my sister Linda Fatata and Mayoral Candidate Rob Palmieri, I was FIRED from my job as UED Commissioner.

Not that I mind being mentioned or blame the O.D. or the author of the article, Dan Miner. It's just still surreal that Roefaro did what he did. Fire half his staff, that is. And for no apparent reason, for none of the positions have been filled.

Childhood friend and confidante Dan Labella remains firmly in place, although reports vary as to how much time he actually spends in the building in these twilight days of this most dissapointing administration.

The soon-to-be ex mayor likes to blather on about how much money he saved by terminating the three of us. Unfortunately, we were the three who spent the most time in City Hall actually working.

Don't stand in the lobby or try to get on an elevator at 4:29-you may be trampled by the exodous of workers literally running from the building!

This post could go on and on about that, but I would rather focus on something more important, a great point brought up by Dan in his article. What does the next mayor plan to do about it?

Ernie Sanita is going to fire every at-will employee. A tantilizing thought, but but probably not going to happen.

Rob Palmieri wants to give every current employee a 4 month grace period to see how they perform. With all due respect to Mr. Palmieri, he had been a departmet heads for many years. He should already know how things work (or don't) in City Hall.

Cardillo wants to let his transition team interview potential candidates and whittle to just three that he will pick from. Great in theory but do we honestly believe his top choices will really be dictated by a team of people that he does not control?

Cerminaro evokes images of the type of administration he wants to have by announcing his department heads will be in "lock step"with what he wants to accomplish.

Green candidate Clemente makes the most sense here whan he simply says he wants to find the most qualified candididates.

None of these five Mayoral wannabes has articulated yet what the vision is that these at-will picks are going to promote.

With time running out, it would be nice to hear what we can expect for the next four years.

Hopefully, it will be something unlike the disaster of the Roefaro years.

Around the City with Bobby Sullivan: Developing Downtown

Around the City with Bobby Sullivan: Developing Downtown: Downtown Utica-why does it seem so hard to get it past the "idea" stage and into the development mode that just about every other large, med...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Developing Downtown

Downtown Utica-why does it seem so hard to get it past the "idea" stage and into the development mode that just about every other large, medium and small city across the state has been successful at? Even Schenectady, the city that Utican's loved to poke fun of, has now eclipsed us in downtown development.

What are we doing wrong?

I have a few ideas that I think have hindered us in "landing the plane" of downtown turn around.


Utica residents love to hate their city. At least they love to vocalize that hate. I think they just hate the stalled progress and broken promises that they have endured for the past 40 years. A whole generation of Utica has grown up being told that success is just around the corner. It never really comes. The reaction is to grumble about how crummy Utica is, what a dump it has become, how there is nothing here and no reason to stay. For some reason they do stay and they continue to complain. If they really truly did not care, they would not even talk about it any more.

But they do care.

The 'burbs.
For many years, the Utica metro region has done everything in its power to suck the retail and commercial growth out of the already developed urban grid and transplant it to  farmland, wetlands and apple orchards. The end result-a decaying, underutilized urban fabric next to suburban sprawl that has eliminated natural green space and agricultural economy.

Are we really better off?

When Griffiss Airforce Base was closed in the mid-90's, the entire region scrambled to replace the lost jobs and economy that was generated there. EDGE was formed and most of the regional push was to fill the space. A drive through the base today presents a vastly changed infrastructure. Gleaming modern buildings and public sculpture greets visitors driving over smooth as silk roads.

A vastly different experience from a trek through downtown Utica.

The question is, why can't that same can-do regional spirt now be applied to downtown Utica? Are we not in essentially the same shape as Griffiss was in 1995?  Empty, underutilized commercial buildings such as the Harza and HSBC are just waiting for the same kind of investment that created the Griffiss redevelopment. What holds us back?

Cooperation between communities is the answer.

If you don't agree with that, just listen to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "Parochialism is destroying NY State" he said recently. "Regional cooperation is the only way we will survive this economic downturn."

To prove his point, he created ten regions that will now compete for funding from the state for economic development. The regions that show the most cooperation will each win 40 million dollars.

How will we fare in this competition?

If the experience of the last 20 years is any indication, we will come in dead last.

We can change the attitude of every citizen of this community if we demand that our elected officials and the folks who run agencies like EDGE come up with a plan to turn Utica around. It cannot happen if everyone is not committed to it.

We can have all the high paying nanotech jobs in the world, but if the folks earning those big dollars do not want to live, visit or invest in Utica, as a region, we are sunk.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Self-Proclaimed "Princess" destroys 294 Genesee Street

The genteel and elegant interiors of 294 Genesee St, The former "Catholic Women's Club", was gutted by the infamous "Faux Princess," Diana Lenska. 

The hand carved Carrara Marble fireplaces, of which there were 6 throughout the house, were ripped from their chimney mounts where they have resided since construction in the 1850's.

The Roccoco Pier and Overmantel Mirrors-gone. In their place is crumbling grey plaster and exposed lathe.

 The crowning glory of the mansion, the electrified gasoliers, that have hung from the ornate center medallions since Lincoln was in the White House, vanished. Everything was bundled on a huge moving van and shipped to secret destinations.

The Mansion is a shell of its former self. All the stunning achievements in architecture and decor installed by the original owner, Orasmus Mattison, are but a memory.

 Mattison, a Congressman, was unseated by Roscoe Conkling. He was so upset by the loss that he set about to build the finest mansion in Utica. He imported plate glass from France, installed ridiculously ornate chandeliers and had silver plated door knobs and hinges installed on the 8 ft high rosewood doors.

Numerous craftsmen who had worked on some of Washington's finest landmarks traveled to Utica to carve woodwork, build the rosewood doors and run some of the most beautiful and ornate plaster ceilings ever seen in this region!

All of that is now gone-ripped from our city by a greedy and pretentious woman who rode into town on the proverbial "high horse." She proclaimed that she was a Princess and at first, she talked a good game.

She was connected, it appeared, to a Hong Kong billionare. Paul Kan was the reputed "Bill Gates" of the Orient. He paid cash for the mansion and had his Princess begin plans to hold court there.

I was introduced to her one day in City Hall when Angelo Roefaro, the Mayor's Assistant at the time, called to breathlessly tell me "come quick, Princess Diana is here!"

Anticipating yet another City Hall crackpot, I strode down to the Mayors office to find an Ivana Trump look-a-like in a red and black velour running suit (this outfit would reappear on occasions too numerous to mention.)

Her heavily made up face was crowned with cotton-candy hair dyed a color not found in nature. She demurely held out her hand, introduced herself, and eyed me up and down as if waiting for me to bow in her presence.

I did not.

After explaining that her "benefactor" had purchased the mansion for her, she coyly asked if there was any "help" the city could provide.

At this point, I was a bit suspicious but still curious. I mean, she did have the key to the huge front doors of 294 Genesee St!

The Catholic Women's Club was a structure that I knew well. Several years ago, when I owned and operated Thornberry's, we had catered a luncheon there for the ladies. I was stunned by the beauty and grandeur of the place. It was exquisite when done up for a party. I thought, why not cater here for regular folks?

I approched the ladies with a proposal. We would cater events at the mansion and give them a fee for the use of the place. We also agreed to have our restaurant staff help with some of the maintenance that was so badly needed.

It was a perfect arrangement!  We catered weddings, communion luncheons, christmas parties and even political fundraisers there. Every one who attended an event was flabbergasted by the sheer elegance and historical ambiance of the place.

One day, we were told the women had made a decision-they wanted to sell the place. I was devestated and had a terrible fear that this fragile beauty would eventually meet a cruel and destructive fate.

I never thought it would be at the hands of a......Princess!

In any event, the place was sold, much of the original furnishings, including two life sized portraits of the bible characters "Ruth and Rachael" that flanked the front parlor fireplace, were removed. Even nearly empty now, the home still had the look and feel of a grand French Salon or a Washington Embassy. It was truly a remarkable place.

The mansion was eventually purchased by a man from California, John Kane. He had envisioned a high end B&B at the location. At the selling price of 180k, compared to the price of something similar in California (if it could even be had) it was a bargain.

Several years after the purchase, his plans seemed to fall through. His two sisters, who had been residing on site, moved out and the place was empty. Talk of  his selling the artifacts filtered throughout the town and into City Hall, where I was now Commissioner of the Urban & Economic Development Department. I was obsessed with the possible destruction of the interiors and worked tirelessly to try and find someone who could save it.

Enter the Princess. It was wierdly surreal that, after so long trying to match a buyer with the building, that almost overnight someone appeared that seemed to have access to the capital needed to stabilize and preserve it.

I was doubtful about her claim of "Royalty." She seemed more like an aging "Real Housewife of New Jersey" than a European Princess. The city helped her out with a small facade grant so that she could stabilize the exterior. 

Then the O.D. discovered her. It was all downhill from there.

A local reporter, Jen Bogden, did a story that insinuated the Princess may be a "fake." It seemed that no one from the Polish Embassy in Washington had ever heard of her. In any event, they said, Poland does not recognize royalty, so her claims meant nothing to the Polish Government.

Almost overnight, her financial backers vanished. She had contributed to them "losing face," an Asian equivelent of being branded a loser or worse!

She blamed the O.D. for destroying her mission. She struggled and appealed to the Polish Community for help. She was profiled by Cassandra Harris Lockwood, publisher of the Utica Phoenix. She announced in this front page article that the shame and scandal that her Asian benefactors had suffered at the hands of Utica and the O.D.had to be undone if she was to be able to stay in Utica. The mansion would have to be sold and she would leave town if they did not feel vindicated.

At one point, she did begin to assemble a team of local supporters. She mounted an exibition of important polish World War 2 memoribilia. She seemed to be gaining a toehold in our community. She held elegant teas and parties with the requisite dose of high drama well suited for a royal living in Utica.

Then, she disappeared.

What happens next is not clear but it appears that there may have been a health issue. In any event, it all lead to the events of today-destruction of the Mansion interiors and the all but certain eventual demolition of the landmark.

The question is-why? Cassandra Harris-Lockwood claims she had  approached Lenska weeks ago to let her know that, if the rumors of her selling the contents of the mansion were true, The landmarks Society could step in and assist in preventing that radical decision.

That never happened. Everyone was caught off guard by what happened today. We had thought, maybe the light fixtures and possibly a mirror or two could be removed and sold. We never, ever thought that the complete and total dismantling of the entire interior could ever be a possibility!

I realize today that, at one point in time, I was perceived as "supporting" her claim of royalty. I never could prove or disprove it. I always was a bit suspicious and thought it was a stretch at best, but I truly didn't care. Utica is full of colorful people that have delusions of who they are and where they come from. We had a Contessa that shopped on Mohawk St, a Priest with a thick Irish brogue that was born in Kossuth Ave. and numerous people walking around downtown believing that they came from Venus. 

This case was different. She had the deed to the palace! Unfortunately, she ultimately was the one who destroyed it.

What follows is a letter that I hastily penned after the destruction was revealed. i think it says it all.

Diana Lenska
294 Genesee St
Utica N.Y. 13502 Sept. 29, 2011
RE: Catholic Women’s Club destruction
Ms. Lenska,
To say that I am shocked by the destruction of this stunning landmark at your hands is the most egregious understatement that I will ever utter in my life. Appalling and wanton destruction that left me physically nauseated and emotionally devastated. You should be ashamed of your actions and, if it was possible, be brought up on charges for desecrating a nationally significant landmark.
There is absolutely NOTHING you could say, no excuse, no reason, to carryout the deed you have done. 
Revenge- that is the only reason I can think of. 
Revenge against Utica, the Observer Dispatch, the citizens of our city, revenge against anyone you can think of. And, why would you carry out this twisted and sick plot to punish a place you have called home, a place where some people did support you? Because you were not treated like the “royalty” you fancy yourself to be!
Let me say this-no one with a drop of royal blood in their veins would have allowed the destruction of your “tidy little palace,” as it was referred to once in a Phoenix article. Yes, the same paper that supported you, defended you, and helped you when you arrived and were not regally welcomed in the manner that you were so accustomed to.
For to carry out this act, you have doomed the future of this important and historic structure, for now it is worthless. It will either be vandalized and stripped of any thing left of value or remodeled into an office building that cannot possibly hint at the grand past that you have so callously wiped away for your own greed and profit.
And, you han no right to come into this town and carry out such an act! I do not believe that you even paid for the structure with your own money! And, if Mr. kan or anyone else instructed you to do this senseless and shocking deed, they too will be exposed for this travesty.
What will Mr. Kan say about “face” when, throughout the world, he is known as a man who allows priceless historic artifacts to be callously ripped from a landmark of such beauty and grace.
A crime of rape was committed against this building and our community. We will not forget. And we will talk, take action and, make sure that, wherever you go, what ever community you move to, they know to protect their landmarks against you.
I hope that you leave town quietly, like a thief in the night, because that is what you have proven yourself to be.
Not a “Princess.” But, rather a common criminal, no better than the drug crazed goons who steal copper plumbing from buildings in the night.
So sad.
Robert Sullivan