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.

1 comment:

  1. I am sick of hearing the "regionalism" and "cooperation" nonsense as a solution to our economic problems when, in reality, past efforts toward same over the last 40 years have made things significantly WORSE. Unless municipal boundaries are erased, there will ALWAYS be "winners and losers" creating competition rather than cooperation.

    The only "regionalism" that will work is a merger and elimination of municipalities and all entities providing municipal services within a defined area. Anything short of complete merger will result in one municipality taking advantage of the residents of another.

    Here is where past "regional cooperation" has gotten us: We can't "demand" that EDGE do anything for Utica because "we" don't control it. We can't keep the water supply designated for Greater Utica from being sent to Verona because half the reps on the water board are from outside the city and the county controls two of the Utica reps (i.e., the board is biased toward expansion). We can't control how the Part County sewer system is governed because it is controlled by a Board of Legislators MOST of whom don't even live in the area served by the sewer district (i.e. the sewer district is biased toward expansion). These examples show the problems that result when the geographic size of the governing body is mis-matched to where the people paying the bills reside. County level government is geographically too large -- and our fiefdoms of city towns and villages are too small -- for most of our needs.

    Until there is a merger of governments around Utica (and to a lesser extent, Rome, because it is already enlarged), and a reorganization to remove localized services (libraries, zoos, aud, etc) from County control and turn them back to the enlarged cities where they originated, we will continue to see sprawl and continue to see property taxes rise - which makes us less competitive as a region.

    In so far as Cuomo's "competition" : it is an abomination that he pits one region of New York against another. Maybe Utica will make out well within the Mohawk Valley region -- by dumping on Amsterdam -- and then learn how it feels when Long Island takes the big prize from Utica. Sorry -- I think the whole idea is sick, but, unfortunately we all are forced to pay for it. Let each city get its own act together and let the global marketplace decide who wins -- not a bunch of politicians.