The Galleries. It's like Syracuse's very own New Coke or Crystal Pepsi - what else can you say that hasn't been said before? Is there not a point when making fun of such an easy target actually makes you more pathetic than the target itself?
I mean, what can you say--with a straight face-- about Mayor Lee Alexander's statement comparing the construction of the Galleries to the building of the Erie Canal (The Post Standard, August 1, 1985)? Would this be the same canal that the city of Syracuse paved over when the canal became obsolete? And the same canal that Fred Lebensold, architect of the Civic Center, implored the city to unearth ten years earlier in a Clinton Square redevelopment plan? The same canal that Lebensold said must be uncovered and "return[ed] to its historic prominence in the Square area"? (June 24, 1975)
And, really - isn't it just going for the cheap laugh when I remind you that the Galleries project took six years to get from initial idea to construction phase in large part because the city couldn't find a major tenant? And that, over Jack Daniels on a fishing trip at Wolf Island in 1983, Executive Vice President of the Metropolitan Development Association Irwin Davin suggested to County Executive John Mulroy that perhaps the Onondaga County Library could be the anchor tenant? (Herald-American, July 28, 1985) Would that be the same library that was already located downtown and apparently didn't bring in enough traffic to make a difference? The same library that had ten other branches in the city and twenty throughout the Syracuse suburbs? The same library that had $35,585 in outstanding overdue fines (countywide) in July 1987? A $35,585 amount that was only a rough estimate, as "overdue books and theft [were] so common, it's hard to keep track of the actual loss"? (Syracuse Herald-Journal, July 20, 1987)
And am I just taking the low road when I quote Galleries developer Stewart "Bud" Andrews, who stated that the Galleries would hold its own against the suburban shopping centers because "it's not where you do your grocery shopping?" (Syracuse Herald-Journal, July 31, 1985) Would those be the same suburban shopping centers that survived precisely because of the existence of a supermarket? The same suburban shopping centers that realized food is a better anchor than books?
And what point is served by again bringing up Robert Congel's (and Mayor Young's) assertion that the "Oil City Mall"--whose plans were first announced in July, 1987, three months before the Galleries opening--would be a complement, rather than competition, to the downtown shopping center, as it would "revive Syracuse's urban core...extend[ing] the city's central business district to Onondaga Lake"? (The Post Standard, July 11, 1987) And, to that end, Congel wanted to enter a joint leasing agreement with the Galleries, requiring any tenant in the Oil City Mall to also open up shop in the Galleries? Would this be the same agreement that would--according to Congel--work splendidly because the Galleries and the Oil City Mall would be "two different markets"? (Syracuse Herald Journal, July 17, 1987) Two different markets in the same extended downtown?
And shouldn't I rise above recalling Syracuse officials' steadfast belief that the Galleries would turn around downtown just as a similarly-named Galleria supposedly had done in downtown Louisville, Kentucky? (Syracuse Herald-Journal, July 31, 1985) Would this be the same Galleria that was also built by a group of Canadian developers (Oxford Properties) and that, contrary to overenthusiastic pr claims from the Louisville Chamber of Commerce to the Syracuse MDA, never took off? The same Galleria that was was purchased by the City of Louisville from the Canadian developers in 2001 as it had become nothing more than empty storefronts and a closed food court? The same Galleria that was then sold for a buck to the Cordish Company of Baltimore, who performed a 70 million dollar renovation of the mall by knocking down the exterior sides, but keeping the glass atrium, allowing for both an open-air pedestrian mall as well as the ability for restaurants to provide outdoor seating rain or shine? The same glass roof that had also been proposed as part of the 1973 SyracUSA report (Syracuse Herald Journal, October 18, 1973), to be constructed over South Salina Street? Or the related "canopy system" that was suggested by Syracuse architect Paul Malo to the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce on November 15, 1973 as a relatively quick and inexpensive way to revitalize downtown? A canopy system that Malo insisted would be much cheaper and less hassle than an "enclosed air conditioned mall" (Syracuse Herald-Journal, November 16, 1973)? As in $240,000 (1973 dollars) compared to the Galleries' $48 million?
And is it particularly shameless to mention that on the first day of the Galleries' construction, instead of distributing a normal press release, the developers handed out a coloring book instead? (The Post-Standard, August 1, 1985) A coloring book that included pictures such as a kid scratching his head, along with the caption "What do you suppose is going to be inside the Galleries? Circle the one you think is right: shops, restaurants, a tower for a princess"? The same coloring book that was created, according to author Art Rath, because he "figured if [he] wrote it down to the level of kids, maybe it would get adults to get the message"? Would these be the same kids who went to the Galleries shortly after its second grand opening--when the library finally opened nine months after the rest of the mall--and felt an overwhelming sense of embarrassment? These same kids who loved their suburban malls at the time -- even the equally empty Fairmount Fair--because they all had their own unique charm and character? These same kids who understood that the schoolyard drama of forgetting who you are and copying the cool boys and girls in a misguided effort to become popular always ends in miserable failure? These same kids who would have circled "tower for a princess," because that would have been far more realistic than expecting a mall in a paved over downtown with a library as an anchor and no grocery store in sight not to mention a soon-to-be 150+ store mall three miles away and a failed replica model 700 miles away to be the ultimate answer in turning the city around?
So, yeah, picking on the Galleries makes me kind of pathetic. But no more pathetic than this: on July 31, 1985, a crane took a wrecking ball to the old McCrory's building at 435 South Salina Street to begin construction of The Galleries of Syracuse. Even after several swings, the wall would not break. It had been built to last.