If you haven't seen Syracuse lately, you might be surprised by its upbeat-and upscale-image. Nobody has managed to boost the sunshine level in the Salt City, yet the future looks brighter by the day and the city is in renaissance mode. "Ten years from now no one will recognize Syracuse, New York," says City of Syracuse Mayor Roy Bernardi G'73. "We're growing and we're growing smart."
Anchoring much of the optimism is the Carousel Center, which sits on the edge of Onondaga Lake like a gleaming intergalactic space station. It's one of the nation's top 25 malls and is soon slated to double in size. Nearby, there's a new $32 million minor-league baseball stadium, a $50 million airport renovation, and a lakefront development project that will include an aquarium and ultimately entail a $1 billion investment. Further downtown is Armory Square, a gentrification effort that has boosted Syracuse's urban sensibility. Most of this development is rising from the ashes of abandoned factories, warehouses, oil tanks, and salt yards-all remnants of Syracuse's once vital industries.
When Syracuse was literally a salt city, a bumper crop of new businesses supported its production of "white gold," including barrel making, boat building, and salt grinding. With Syracuse shifting toward a brain-powered economy, a new breed of support services is emerging in the form of places to rest and recharge the weary minds of today's workforce.
Armory Square, a handsome 10-block historic preservation district rescued from skid-row status, has become synonymous with Syracuse nightlife, with its 30-odd clubs, coffee houses, restaurants, and pubs. During the day, it bustles with business lunches, upscale shopping, and field trips to the Museum of Science and Technology (MOST), home to the only IMAX theater in New York State.
The linchpin of Armory Square is the new but seamlessly integrated Center Armory development, which has 28,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor and 38 luxury condominiums upstairs. Many condos are rented to young professionals. Robert Doucette G'76, G'83 has poured the past 15 years of his life into Armory Squareand into his mission of urban preservation. "This area is a critical economic development tool," Doucette says. "It especially attracts young professionals looking for an urban experience. To help attract people to Syracuse, you have to offer the urban amenities we offer in Armory Square."
Soon to segue into Armory Square is the Lakefront Development Project, which has been gradually revitalizing the 800 dilapidated acres between the Central New York Regional Market and downtown Syracuse. Much of the area has already been transformed into the Carousel Center (which attracts 15 million visitors annually), P&C Stadium, and a new $11 million Intermodal Transportation Center, which houses bus and train connections. Franklin Square, reclaimed from an industrial graveyard just north of downtown Syracuse, is now a gracious mix of office buildings, parks, and residential space.
Next to come off the drawing board are a Carousel Center expansion (150 new stores and a 240-room hotel) and an $8.5 million renovation of the 54-acre regional market, the oldest and largest in New York State. The Inner Harbor Project, scheduled to begin this summer, may bring the most dramatic change to downtown Syracuse; it will feature a new urban waterfront with a mix of retail, restaurant, and residential space, plus a picturesque promenade, boat slips, and access to all state waterways. Yet to be determined is the exact location of a $38 million aquarium and entertainment center. "This project will change the face of Syracuse and put us on the map as a premier tourist destination," says Bart Bush, executive director of the Lakefront Development Corporation, the nonprofit agency that serves as catalyst for the transformation.