Thursday, March 30, 2006

Bringing Home the Bacon Part 2

Some good news from the "Pork Department" today: SUNYIT sportsplex gets $20M from state. While this may not be quite in the same league as Binghamton, it is a welcome change, nonetheless.

Now the question becomes how to make the most of it. According to the Mayor of Rome "Here we have an opportunity for Whitestown, Rome, New Hartford, for the whole community, to utilize this multifaceted complex at SUNYIT right down the road." It is a worthy suggestion constructing a facility that all these communities could use, and certainly with our system of roads and the access to SUNYIT, use by those three communities is feasible.

But Mayor Julian of Utica also has a suggestion: Put it in Downtown Utica next to the Aud.


First of all, next to the Aud is a more convenient location than SUNYIT because the Aud is just off I-790 and is near the convergence of several major bus routes. While it might be 1-2 miles farther from Rome, it is closer to New Hartford and parts of Whitestown. Space for parking will be available now that Washington Courts is being cleared away.

The added benefit is the chance for Synergy with the Aud and nearby downtown. Noting that
hotels and restaurants would be within walking distance, Julian said, "a $20 million facility on its own is certainly going to be a nice facility. A $20 million facility attached to and part of the Aud would take it to another level."

I think it would be even more . . .
A location adjacent to the Aud would also
be within walking distance of the Brewery District (with its developing shops, galleries and pubs), Pratt at MWPAI (with student housing nearby), and the Players Theater (under construction). Add the nearby bus routes that would make the facility accessible to students from All the region's colleges, and you will have created a "critical mass" of activities within a small enough area to turn Utica into a bona fide College Town. Physically locating the SUNYIT facility in the midst of a thriving community would make SUNYIT that much more marketable. Being adjacent to the Aud might also offer an opportunity for both facilities to economize with some shared services.

The idea of locating a college facility off-campus in the heart of downtown to revitalize the downtown is exactly what SUNY is doing in Binghamton. Why not here?

A sportsplex at SUNYIT will only be a sportsplex at SUNYIT. A sportsplex Downtown would satisfy the same needs but also spawn all sorts of ancillary activities that would not be possible on a college campus. Utica's stature as the region's entertainment, college and cultural center would be taken up a notch, making the whole region more competitive with other regions in the state.

Think about it. . . . Mayor Julian is on to something.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Downtown in the Evening

A brisk walk through downtown Utica this evening . . . The late day sun brought out interesting details in everyday sights.

Downtown Utica Downtown Utica Downtown Utica Downtown Utica Downtown Utica Downtown Utica © All rights reserved

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Destruction of County Airport Terminal Right on Schedule

Construction of two classrooms for the State's "Emergency Preparedness Center" will begin next month in the LOBBY of the Oneida County Airport Terminal, with a second construction phase commencing in October for more classrooms. The State intends to lease the County facility.

Of course, this will ensure that the facility (UCA) is never again used as an airport. This is an incredible waste of a perfectly good terminal and airstrip the marketing of which had not even been attempted.

While the O-D gushes about "name recognition" and the unspecified economic benefits the training center will spin-off, there are some warnings buried in the verbiage.

"The state continues to be confident that 400 to 500 people a week will travel to the emergency preparedness facility, and would like to offer first responders some incentives for attending courses." If incentives need to be offered, it suggests that the market for such a facility may not be there.

"State officials are trying to provide some college credit and certification" which means they haven't even linked up with an institution yet.

The lease of the facility and the paltry sum the State is investing shows the State's lack of commitment. (Compare this project with the "real committment" shown to two Binghamton projects in the article below.) The project does, however, bail out our Board of Legislators who previously decided to spend $millions to transfer UCA's functions to Griffiss without any plan whatsoever for UCA.

The bailout, and some positive press for local Albany representatives, is the only sure thing from this fiasco. Don't expect this project to transform the local economy.

On page 2A of the 3/24 O-D there was a related story about how the Airport Reuse Committee had asked the State Homeland Security officials several questions concerning the state 's use of UCA only to have Board of Legislators Chairman Fiorini abruptly end the meeting before the questions could be answered. Fiorini was quoted as saying: " Homeland security is here... Homeland security is going to be here. You're going to have to work around it." More is available on this from the 3/25 Sentinel which indicates that the best land may be going to the state.

Who is Mr. Fiorini to cut off the Public's right to know how THEIR facilities and tax dollars are going to be used? What is this? A dictatorship?

It's obvious that the Airport Reuse Committee is merely window dressing. In fact, THEY should have been consulted before the decision was even made to locate Homeland Security at UCA. As I said earlier, this training center scheme is nothing but a Bailout out for our County officials. Fiorini's statement should make that even more clear. No, Sir ... There is no way to mistake who is in charge and what is really going on.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Bringing Home the Bacon

Announced today, Sen. Libous brings in $50-60 Million for New Engineering Facility at Binghamton U. Announced 12/5/05, Sen. Libous brings in $29 Million for SUNY Education and Community Center in Downtown Binghamton .

We find out today that the balleyhooed Homeland Security Training Center announced 12/5/05 to be located in Whitestown accounts for only $4.5 Million in the upcoming state budget.

Riches vs Chump Change --- Draw your own conclusions.

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Educa$$ion News

Yeowwwch!!! There goes the wallet again ...

Rome school budget may have 8 percent hike . Oriskany school board OKs 6.9 percent spending increase.

Evr'y body's doin' it ...

As UpstateBlog.Net repeatedly points out in similar stories:
"The state Division of the Budget has projected a 2.8 percent rate of inflation for New York State for 2006-07."

Our schools lack discipline . . . It comes right from the top!
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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Waiting for a Makeover

Old neighborhoods that have fallen on hard times can be brought back to life, sometimes with tremendous success. A great example is Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. Browse through the Forever Elmwood website for some inspiration and instruction. A respect for history, design, and detail is the key.
Utica has a lot of interesting buildings and neighborhoods that have been ignored. Many are true "diamonds in the rough" that only need some well thought-out TLC to be brought back. Unfortunately, too many places get overlooked for so long that they ultimately succumb to the wrecking ball -- only to be replaced (if at all) with something modern, ordinary, and at odds with the surroundings. With some imagination, it does not have to be that way.
With the presence of MWPAI, Pratt, Sculpture Space, and design programs at MVCC, among others, there is no shortage of imagination and creativity in Utica. There are others who are are expert in business. To make renewal happen, perhaps we only need to mobilize these talents by focusing on some possibilities.
From time to time I am going to highlight some the places which (to my untrained eye) seem to offer possibilities. Maybe someone out there with some ideas or some money to invest will see the possibilities, and begin the process of renewal.
* * *
Utica's Union Station is truly an architectural gem.
Union Station Exterior (1998) Union Station Interior (1998) Union Station ClockUnion Station Exterior Union Station Benches © All rights reserved
* * * *

Sitting just east of the station and adjoining it is a building that appears unused or at least underutilized .

With Union Station, the Trackside Tavern and the Children's Museum nearby, this building and area could be a hub of activity and seem to be just begging for a makeover. Add some money and an imagination, maybe this could be a ... market place? Anyone have any ideas ? (serious ones only, please)
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Friday, March 17, 2006

Water Rate Hike, MHA Shuffling, More County Borrowing and Losing More Ground

Just when things seemed to have quieted down, a spate of news stories has pricked our interest. Unfortunately, as usual, the news is more of the same.

We no sooner put our wallets away in anticipation of a spring end to high heating bills when we get confronted with a potential double digit hike in water rates. While recent changes to federal regulations may have something to do with the hike, the unhappy homeowner should know about how he or she may be subsidizing some of our large "industrial" users in the area, such as the prisons, Hamilton College, and the Brewery. To see what we mean, look at the table on p 45 of 141 at MVWA 2003 Bond Series Info and notice MVWA's ranking for "Industrial" rather than "Residential" users, and it will tell you why your individual home rates may be so high. If you want to know who are the beneficiaries of YOUR largess, check out: MVWA 2005 Financial Report Page 105 of 116.

On another front, we find out that the Utica Municipal Housing Authority has chosen a new leader, a former Utica City School District superintendent, who apparently interviewed for a superintendent's job in Fall River last summer, when questions were raised about his departure from East Providence. The Internet sure makes life interesting, doesn't it? No questions seem to have been raised here ... Is MHA still on dialup?

Meanwhile, Oneida County (with the highest sales tax in the state) feels the need to borrow some more - up to $2 million dollars more - to construct an aircraft maintenance training center for MVCC (or is it really for Empire Aero) at Griffiss. While our local colleges should be providing our students with training that will lead to jobs in the local economy, do we really need to BORROW to do this, especially now when our tax burden is already so crushing? What is the projected Return On Investment for this borrowing? (The legislation may be reviewed at page 18 of 58 here.)It's interesting to compare the tons of press coverage and back-slapping given to the State's security training center ($1-6 million state dollars) as opposed to the practical silence on this proposal ($2 million County dollars).

Finally, we have the non-news story of the year, since we can literally see it every day in boarded up houses and businesses: the region's population shrinking.

Perhaps the first three stories explain the last.

PS Happy St. Paddy's Day to you all.
Maybe if we pray real hard we can drive the "snakes" that hold us back out of Oneida County. Don't miss Utica's big parade tomorrow morning!

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