Dominic Robinson | Published: 5/24
|Historic architecture is certainly one of the greatest assets on the Northside, which is why we’re sad to announce that the demolition of the “Otisca Building”, located on the corner of Butternut and N. Mcbride Streets, has begun this week. The building is an architectural gem and has long stood as the most prominent reminder of the Northside’s proud beer-brewing history (it was the long time home of the Ryan Brewery). Unfortunately, it has stood vacant, contaminated, and tax delinquent for decades, and despite countless attempts among activists, preservationists and public officials to save it over the years, nothing ever stuck. Today Otisca is too far-gone to save. It would cost a lot of money just to stabilize the structure, and there have been growing concerns that the structure might collapse, posing a serious threat to public safety. And so it must come down.|
The good news is that there are a great team of partners working to develop something good in its place. This past fall Northside UP and St. Joseph’s Hospital were informed by City Hall that an out-of-town developer was looking to acquire the structure through the Syracuse Urban Renewal Agency, and that they were going demolish the building to develop 54 units of low-income housing on the site. While St. Joseph’s and Northside UP’s neighborhood revitalization strategy certainly includes a strong affordable housing component, this felt a bit too much like a high-rise “housing project” from a bygone era. Overly-concentrated poverty in dense, low-income projects has proven to be a problematic strategy in cities across America. Luckily, Mayor Miner agreed with this sentiment, and she was willing to work with Northside UP and St. Joseph’s Hospital when we asked her to explore an alternative proposal. After many pots of coffee and creative brainstorming, we arrived at an alternative scenario in which St. Joseph’s would work with long-time partner, Home HeadQuarters, to acquire and stabilize the property. Since then we’ve turned to our partners at Housing Visions to redevelop the site. While the current building could not be saved, the site will maintain its architectural integrity. There are plans for a mixed-use facility with commercial space on the ground level and affordable housing on the upper floors. With Housing Visions taking the lead on the development, we are confident that the result will be quality construction and top-notch property management – just like they have done with Prospect Hill Homes.
It’s because of an incredible team effort between the City of Syracuse, Home HeadQuarters, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Northside UP, and now Housing Visions that the Otisca site will once again be a vibrant place on the Northside. Nevertheless, as we demolish the majestic structure that sits on the site, we are removing a piece of history and architectural beauty from this community. This moment serves as a reminder that we need better systems and tools in our community to address issues of blight and vacancy. It’s bittersweet to point out that as we tear down the Otisca building, Syracuse and Onondaga County have officially established something called a “Land Bank” – a unique tool that will allow local governments the ability to acquire, remediate and ultimately redevelop properties like Otisca. Had a Land Bank existed even ten years ago, the Otisca building might have been saved. It’s important to remember that on-the-ground efforts need to be supported by intelligent and effective policies. While Syracuse, like many post-industrial cities, has been a victim of short-sighted planning and policies in the past, it’s good to see us moving in the right direction. As we continue to make progress on a policy front, we will be able to preserve our neighborhood assets more effectively.