Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Paucity of Planning for Public Parking . . .

I wondered why I heard someone complaining about finding parking when I walked past the train station yesterday. There has always been plenty of parking around the train station.Then I came upon the scene at left (click to enlarge) which was a big surprise.

The large public parking lot created at taxpayers' expense across the street from Union Station, the Children's Museum and the Oneida County DMV Office has apparently been sold to the owners of the Doyle Building and is now off limits to the public.

With the city of Utica so concerned about the availability of public parking these days, when/how did this happen?

It actually happened back in 2007 during the Julian administration . . .  AND it was approved by the Utica Common Council But did anyone from the public really understand what was going on?

Buried in a 6/21/07 article in the Utica OD "Could Park Avenue become a parking lot?" (use your library card for access) comes this tid-bit:
"The sale of 322-328 Main St. to Stuart A. Bannatyne for $50,000 was approved. Bannatyne plans to create additional parking for 330-334 Main St., the former Doyle Hardware building ."
The article makes it sound like Mr. Bannatyne is "creating" parking on the site, rather than purchasing existing public parking. Who would know what is on 322-328 Main?  Who would know that the developer's "working with the city to address parking issues" described in an earlier 4/25/07 article involved the sale of a public parking facility?

The public only gets an inkling of what happened after council approval of the sale from Councilman Ed Hill's statements in a 6/26/07 article "Council will look into Park Ave. plan"
Councilman Ed Hill, R-1, told the group at Wednesday night's Economic Development Committee meeting that he believes the idea to close a portion of the street [Park Avenue] was developed in secrecy.

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente and Mayor Tim Julian, both Hill's fellow Republicans, should have first discussed the idea with the council before drawing up plans, Hill said.

"As a councilperson, it's been my experience that there's been no discussion between the mayor and myself," Hill said after the meeting. "I'm not trying to stymie progress, but I also have ideas and have talked to people."

The meeting ended following a shouting match between Hill and Julian. That occurred as Hill described what he said was a deal between city and county leaders to deed a county-owned parking lot near the former Doyle Hardware building to the city.

According to Hill, the deal was made so the city could then sell it to Stuart Bannatyne , the New York City developer who purchased the Doyle building. In return, the city would allow the closing of Park Avenue to meet the county's parking needs, Hill said.

"There's not a conspiracy on every corner, Ed," a frustrated Julian said loudly from his seat across the table. Moments later, Julian walked out.

Hill's fellow Republicans dismissed his statements and said his theory has no validity.
Even here, the article tells the public only that the parking lot is "near" the Doyle building.

The lack of transparency and odor of back-room dealing are troubling . . . but the real issue is a lack of planning that still remains even after more than $325,000 taxpayer dollars have been spent on the Utica Master Plan that is not a plan. 

There may be good reasons for giving the Doyle Building its own parking area, but imagine if Doyle was in the New Hartford Shopping Center.  What would it be like if the Shopping Center's vast parking lot were carved up into spaces designated for each tenant? It would become inconvenient because customers would have to drive around to find the spaces owned by the establishment they wanted to patronize. Some establishments might run out of spaces at particular times while other spaces go unoccupied. It might be such a bother that people would stay away.  Does not Utica run the risk of this happening at Baggs Square? 

The parking required by an area can be estimated from the kinds of activities contemplated and the square footage that will be occupied by those activities.

The answer is PLANNING for both uses and parking to ensure that there are enough spaces for all the land uses contemplated within a particular area. With sound planning a developer like Mr. Bannatyne might not feel the need to have to purchase and maintain a separate lot.  That reduces the cost of doing business. With sound planning, fewer spaces might need to be built, e.g. spaces serving the DMV during the day would be free to serve the restaurant crowd at night.  That increases efficiency.  

Being able to do things more efficiently used to be the driver behind the rise of cities. 

But Utica cannot be efficient without a REAL plan.  As long as Utica remains without a real plan, development will continue to require special deals --- or the development will go to the suburbs where developers will have more room to control their own environment.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Undoing of West Utica . . .

The State DOT revealed its final design for the N-S Arterial remake last night at a meeting of the ArtsWest Alliance. . . .

It is going to be even worse than expected for West Utica!

While the bridge over Court St. and cut offs of Sunset Avenue and Warren Street are bad enough, the big surprise and disappointment was that the current single bridge over Oriskany Blvd., Lafayette and Columbia Streets will be replaced by separate bridges . . . with retaining walls holding up the Arterial in-between.

People have somewhat adapted to the current viaduct overhead.  There is plenty of room under the viaduct for light, air and people to pass through, and people are using the space as covered parking. But having the openness replaced with a stone wall . . . even one designed to look like it was built of stone blocks from the Chenango Canal . . . will further detract from and distinctly divide the neighborhood.

Another disappointment is that the northern intersection of Lincoln Ave with Court Street will be eliminated.  Lincoln will end at Roberts Street.  This seems to negate the one good thing that is being proposed: an extension of the dead end of Lincoln Ave to a new intersection with Burrstone Road -- restoring an old access point.

What drivers gain in greater speeds on the arterial, they lose in having to go out of their way to get on the Arterial -- or to go across the Arterial.

Interestingly, state officials were unable to estimate the maximum distance someone would have to detour to drive from one side of the Arterial to the other given the proposed street closures. Nor were they able to estimate the additional time such a detour would take. Ease of access is a major consideration in locating a business.  It should be clear from looking at a map that large areas of West Utica will become backwaters because they will be harder to get to and through.

State officials were also unable to estimate the loss in tax revenue to the City of Utica and the Utica City School District from the large number of property takings. How is the city expected to make up the revenue? They dismissed the question by noting that the City now owns many parcels.  No one thinks how many parcels have fallen into city ownership because of the uncertainty of what the Arterial remake would create.

As disappointing as the state's presentation was, the seeming acceptance by local elected officials and community activists was even more so.  They know what this project will do to West Utica because they have expressed their concerns in the past. They have the biggest stake in this issue and are looked upon to provide leadership.

They need to do so now.  An alternative to this project MUST be found.  Otherwise it will be the undoing of West Utica. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Aren't We Maxed Out?

According to the OD yesterday, Congressman Hanna is co-sponsoring job legislation,  specifically, reauthorization of two programs to, according to a news release,  “offer competition-based awards to stimulate technological innovation among small private-sector businesses while providing government agencies new, cost-effective, technical and scientific solutions to meet their diverse needs, without extra federal spending.”  The links in the article go to federal programs offering grants.

While small businesses are the backbone of the economy, why do they need federal programs especially created just for them?  The same question goes for special programs for women and minority-owned businesses.  Special federal programs have been created to favor certain "classes" defined by the government as worthy of special treatment.

How about the class of people who don't want special treatment . . . who don't want a federal handout . . . who don't want special rules created just for "them?" . . . the ones who what to achieve success through their own resources?

In all these programs, some person or company gets a government hand or hand-out while some person/company's competitor does not. This both encourages businesses to get on the government dole (and control) and discourages those who want to engage in free competition on a level playing field.

Simply put, special programs for special people are costly ... both in dollars spent and in the discouragement given to those who do NOT want to be beholden to the government in running their businesses.

The country is maxed-out  . . . on its credit . . . . and on its patience with special treatment for special people, companies, and groups.

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.