Friday, May 06, 2011

Utica in Limbo

 Future of downtown HSBC building in limbo.
Concerned with the condition of the former HSBC Bank building downtown, codes officials are working with the California-based owner to arrange an interior inspection.
 If the owners prohibit that, codes likely will issue a court order that could lead to the building’s demolition.
This does not bode well for Downtown Utica.

The building's bright white marble facade is replicated on another building's facade facing the little Ellen Hanna sculpture garden across Seneca Street. The public area created in between at the former southern end of Seneca Street, with its seating and stone checkerboard tables,  is a place for office workers to relax and socialize during breaks. The HSBC Building and the public area together create a uniquely urban space that you won't find in the suburbs.

One would think that the pleasant public space on the Seneca Street side and the ample parking area on the west side should make the HSBC Building prime office space. . . but the building sits vacant. Why?

No one is answering that question. . . . or even seems interested in answering that question.
If the building must be demolished, the property has at least one interested developer: the city.

 Urban and Economic Development Commissioner Randy Soggs said it could play into the city’s recently refocused vision for downtown parking, which now includes plans for surface lots instead of a parking garage. 
 “We need some more downtown parking,” he said. “If that building has to come down, there may be a way we can accomplish that at the same time as dealing with a potentially unsafe structure.”

The landmark City Center Building near by is also vacant, as is the first floor of the former Neisners Department Store next to the State Office Building.  Both have had a lot of money poured into them. City Center has been given an expensive marble facade. Neisners  has been given an arcaded front with unique curved display windows extending into the arcade.  Why are there no tenants?

While parking may be an issue for City Center and Neisners with both being on the east side of Genesee, it is NOT an issue for HSBC which has a large parking area next door. Yet all are vacant.

The fact that city officials find an opportunity for a parking lot in a landmark facing the wrecking ball is downright scary.  What happened to the Renaissance City? 

Instead of seeing another opportunity for parking, city officials need to see an opportunity for introspection. They need to answer the question why prime office space having ample parking has not attracted tenants. Only then will they have a clue on what to do with Downtown Utica. 


Anonymous said...

if parking is the problem why not knock all of the buildings down and create one giant parking lot. problem solved.

Anonymous said...

What Strike suggests is the proper question. A realistic look at the downtown is necessary prior to spending more tax dollars on unrealistis initiatives.All candidates ought to address the matter.

Anonymous said...

Strike -- points well taken. Any "perceived" parking problem, assuming there is a problem at all, is around the county office building. Just west of the former HSBC nee Marine Midland building is a mostly vacant parking lot. The former Boston Store parking garage is mostly unutilized.

Can't market a building -- knocking it down for more parking (with even less to go Downtown for.....hmmmmm.....! How dumb does that sound?

Anonymous said...

Yes, why more parking - last time I was in downtown Utica on a weekday there was plenty of street parking and the tumbleweeds rolled down the middle of Genny See St. In this context, knocking down a building for parking in downtown Utica is akin to a solution looking for a problem and a false rationalization.

Of course the owner doesn't really care - if they can't get rent from the building then maybe then can get rent from a surface lot - some revenue is better than none and removing the asset from the lot reduces the owner's tax payment.

The city really needs to work with owners to develop a strategy to get tenants into downtown buildings.

How about starting with a survey of available downtown parking overlaid on top of a survey of vacant office space. And of course assess the demand for office space in the area. Then market the convenience factor of downtown - bus lines, close to thruway, train station, walk to restaurants and bars etc. which is in contrast to the suburban office environment where stepping out of the office requires a car trip to get coffee, paper, supplies etc.

What it really comes down to is making a case for being downtown instead of in the burbs.

And if HSBC building is of relatively recent construction ( 70's or later), it has a chance of attracting office tenants that are considering suburban locations.

Anonymous said...

Hey, why not knock down all the buildings downtown and make a huge parking lot. When the high speed rail line becomes reality, we could be a bedroom community for NYC. Of course this may take say about 50 years!! Heaven help us.

Anonymous said...

The primary question is whether there is a market for downtown commercial expansion in the first place.

Strikeslip said...

That is an important question, Anonymous.

While the Utica Master Plan offers virtually NO real plan for city development, it DOES summarize data (pages 38-40) strongly suggesting that there are certain types of activities where there would be a market for developing downtown.

The problem is that the Master Plan does not go further. It fails to determine what is preventing the demand from being fulfilled downtown. It fails to look at existing ordinances and policies, or public infrastructure or municipal services issues, that may be preventing downtown development. It fails to identify on a map where these potential activities would be best located.

Without a plan that organizes future development in a coordinated fashion, potential developers are better off meeting market demands on suburban greenfields where they have better control over surrounding environmental conditions.

That is unfortunate for everyone because development that logically should be located closer to the population center is pushed to the edge.

RPP said...

Yes, a true marketing study is far different than master plan suggestions and hopes.