The apartment complex planned for what is now the "Oneida Castle" building has received final federal approval. Unfortunately, the building itself will be demolished in the project.
Something does not smell right.
Back in 2003 the City of Utica installed a new main roof, rebuilt lower entry porch roofs, and boarded up windows to preserve the building. Now we are supposed to believe that it is unsalvageable?
In an OD article last December former Urban Renewal Commissioner Robert Sullivan said that the apartment complex proposal
. . . is the best possible outcome for Oneida Castle after the state Historic Preservation Office determined it was not eligible for historic status, thus meaning historic tax credits were not an option. Those tax credits are the primary mechanism for private market-rate development of a building such as the castle . . .So in the end, it's not about salvageability . . . It's all about the money. . . Money from federal grants that will be used to knock the place down. . . Money in the form of tax credits not being available to keep the place up. Taxpayer Money.
And therein lies the problem. The availability or lack of Taxpayer Money for what should be completely private endeavors of housing and building rehabilitation is determinative of what does or does not get done in Utica. Utica sounds like it has a soviet-style planned economy -- and looks it.
Private Money should be seeking out the Oneida Castle as an opportunity to create architecturally distinctive living quarters. . . but this is not happening. Why not? This question was raised for that neighborhood here in January.
I'm going to suggest a simple answer: It's not in the city plan. You won't find that expressly stated in the Utica Master Plan, but implicitly . . . where the "strategies" to "increase the percentage of owner occupied structures" (see p. 30 latest version) is a laundry list of government handouts for people to do what responsible people should be doing anyway . . . where a "mixed income model" (p.30) will be imposed on all city neighborhoods . . . where "anti-gentrification guards" will be imposed (p.55) . . . where an oft-repeated alleged need for "affordable housing" is a euphemism for "government-subsided housing" . . . where a specific vision for each neighborhood's future is lacking. . . where future regulation is planned to be developed by citizens committees.
Private Money will not go where it has to compete with Taxpayer Money, where there are high concentrations of disadvantaged or poor people, or where future regulation is uncertain.
Utica has been a magnet for the poor and disadvantaged. This concentrates costly issues within Utica and raises taxes within Utica -- which encourage the well-heeled to leave Utica. It also makes it convenient for the County off-load some of its responsibilities on to the residents of Utica (like the MVCC proposal). Utica's status as the place for the region's poor is a money-maker and raison-d'être for many. There are simply too many that benefit from the current arrangement for it to change without intervention. The Utica Master Plan was a missed opportunity to intervene. It did not. Instead, it perpetuates the current arrangement.
There is insufficient Taxpayer Money to save our architectural heritage. Until Utica's policies are changed to encourage the inflow of Private Money, there will be more architectural victims.