Thursday, May 7, 2009

May 6, 1979

Well, this infection certainly came out of nowhere, didn't it? Frightening that this one rarity has come to dominate the lives of previously unsuspecting millions, yourself included. Suddenly you're spending countless hours scouring the internet, finding out about its history, its movement, studying past behavior to predict its future. Calling toll-free hotlines late at night because the question of safety is at stake. Despite talk of pay freezes and furloughs at work, you don't think twice about spending money on every item that's associated with this worldwide fever. Yes, if there is one thing Adam Lambert has taught this country in the past few weeks, it is that obsessions are recession-proof.

This has certainly always been the case in the world of sports. Neither swine flu nor a troubled economy has kept Fenway Park from continuing to hold the major league record for consecutive sellouts (476 since May 15, 2003). 55,000 Patriots fans continue to wait for the opportunity to pay up to $169 per seat per game for season tickets. And in Downtown Syracuse, 800 runners showed up every Saturday this spring to train for the Mountain Goat Run, which drew almost 2000 runners to Clinton Square last Sunday. As a runner myself, I witnessed a similar phenomenon also this past Sunday in Providence, as 3300 runners (and hundreds more non-running relatives and friends) gathered in an otherwise sleepy Downtown Providence at 8 am for the 2nd annual Providence Rhode Races. If you build it, they will come, and perhaps nowhere is this more true than running. (Except for baseball stadiums, of course.)

Unfortunately, Syracuse has long been obsessed with a national pasttime that is about as tired as American Idol sans Adam: the enclosed shopping mall. You might say that I'm obsessed with the topic myself, being as I've touched on it many times before, but I can't help to contemplate why it is that 36 years after Syracuse leaders suggested building a glass roof over Salina Street as an improvement for Downtown, current Syracuse residents are still suggesting building a glass roof over Salina Street as an improvement for Downtown:

[suggestion for beautifying Downtown on the CNY Speaks Arts & Aesthetics agenda]
1) Enclose a portion of a downtown street with a roof similar to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan or downtown Las Vegas.

And let's not forget, in 1979, when a Syracuse architect expressed his own unique vision for the revitalization of downtown:

"Picture it: You're in a two-level mall running the length of Salina Street. Sunshine streams in through a glass roof...This enclosure would cover Salina from Water Street to Fayette; Fayette to Jefferson; Jefferson to Onondaga and include the floor area across the street."

Yes, much like a snowglobe, where everything that's shaken up always settles exactly the same, Syracuse has long been obsessed with enclosing the city with glass.

In spring 1979, major retailers were abandoning Downtown Syracuse at a rapid pace. One year earlier, both Woolworth and Kmart announced their plans to leave downtown as soon as their leases were up. Witherell's closed their downtown store on January 31, 1979. In the May 6, 1979 edition of Empire Magazine, a supplement to the Syracuse Herald-American, architect David Ashley discussed his proposal to stop this retail hemorrhage : the Syracuse Regional Shopping Center.

"Walkways on the upper level are as wide as the sidewalk, with cross-overs at "street corners" and in the middle of blocks...Existing sidewalks on the lower level would remain but the street portion, about 50 feet wide, would be split into retail areas similar in size, but not in character, to the Center of Progress Building booths during State Fair week. Plans call for 50,000 square feet of such mini-mall space for hundreds of tenants, artists, craftsmen, food dealers, even shops selling insurance or snowmobiles, adding variety and interest. The upper deck would double the available street level store front area and would allow retail development in empty second floors, even third floors--which might also be turned into high-price apartments."

Sound familiar? No, not the mall and office complex downtown that promised to be "the focal point for the entire region, particularly because of the quality of its design...the design includes a large glass enclosed area "(Syracuse Herald-Journal, December 23, 1981), nor the DeWitt mall with "the glass, 26-foot cathedral ceilings will make you feel like you're walking through an open-air market" (Advertising Supplement to the Post-Standard, August 22, 1991). Ashley believed this downtown shopping center would "turn Syracuse into a major tourist attraction, luring visitors in unprecedented numbers," stating "'cities such as Toronto, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Boston have reversed a trend. The major downtown redevelopment projects there have been more successful than some of the suburban centers.'" One of the mall projects featured prominently in a sidebar in the article is Philadelphia's Gallery:

In Philadelphia, a long-range, $500 million project will transform five blocks of run down, century-old structures into a new shopping-office-hotel district.
The Gallery Shopping Complex is the first step in the plan, consisting of a four-level enclosed mall anchored by two large department stores, with landscaped courts and specialty shops. Since the Gallery, a $55 million project, opened, nearly 100 percent of its space has been rented.
"It certainly is bringing a lot of revenue into the city of Philadelphia," noted Frances Paciotti of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
Paciotti is convinced downtown malls will become more and more popular in the future.
The Gallery was originally anchored by two downtown department stores (Strawbridge & Clothiers and Gimbels), which ultimately meant disaster for the mall:

I probably don't NEED to reiterate what so many have said here, but hell, it's fun, and I want to offer my take. This is about as bad as downtown Philly gets, which to me is actually saying quite a lot. As soon as you step foot into The Gallery, you instantly feel like you need a shower. It just has that imposing grimy feel to it that you can't quite place, but you know if you held one of those groovy UV lights up in it when it was all dark, you'd see the most disgusting proof of humanity's existence splashed all over everything.

Sure, there are stores like Old Navy, Burlington Coat Factory, and Kmart (see accompanying review for that turd as well), but you don't really want to go into any of them at The Gallery. All the versions of those stores at this weirdo excuse for a mall (really it seems more like the reality of some lousy urban planner's lunch that he vomited up one day) came straight from Hell. If you've ever seen the movie Jacob's Ladder, you'll instantly know what I mean. This place is just skeevy beyond belief.

The only reason I'm usually at this place is because one of the trains I take plops me off at Market East Station, which is featured in the very bowels of The Gallery. But it's actually the nicest thing there, because you know you'll be getting away from there soon when heading outbound.

While Philadelphia's Gallery currently has a large number of vacancies and considered a notorious hangout for teenagers, it does continue to serve one important purpose: Market East Station, a SEPTA regional rail station, opened at the mall in 1984. The station serves as a transfer point for several local trains, as well as NJ Transit buses. The Philadelphia Greyhound Bus Station is also located just north of the station. Similarly, architect Ashley envisioned the construction of an "ultra-modern transportation system" as critical to the success of the Syracuse Regional Shopping Center:

[Ashley] suggests a rapid transit bus center. This would service express buses from suburban "park and ride" lots, complete with small heated stations. It would be easily accessible and have an enclosed connection, via moving sidewalk, to the mall...In addition, existing rail lines on the west side of downtown could lead into a new rail transportation center, creating a regional rapid transit system with possibilities for future expansion...A suspended cable car system, similar to those at many ski areas, would start at the south end. It would go to the Syracuse University area with stops at the hospitals...('It would be a big asset for the domed stadium," Ashley said.)

Although David Ashley's Syracuse Regional Shopping Center vision never came to pass, it is interesting to note that Ashley is now the in-house Director of Environmental Design at Ashley McGraw Architects, and referred to as "godfather of green design" in Central New York. His firm highlights their experience in sustainable design, with one of their major projects being the new Syracuse Center of Excellence building. While I honestly don't know much about the Center of Excellence, I do understand that it is a centerpiece of Syracuse as the Emerald City. What I don't understand is why every discussion of the green initiative in Syracuse always mentions Carousel Center addition/Arendi/DestiNY USA.

"We have DestiNY, which is focused on building the largest green shopping mall in the country. Or the world?" Schumer said.

The senator peered out into the crowd seeking the answer, but got no help.

"Anyway, it's very big and very green," Schumer said to a round of laughter.

No new enclosed malls have opened in the country since 2006, but Syracuse is not only celebrating whatever is currently being built at Carousel Center, but then acting as if this is on the forefront of environmentalism as well. Even thirty years ago, Ashley realized "the mall with sophisticated public transit link-up will be more attractive as the energy crises forces motorists to cut back on auto travel." Nowhere on the current DestiNY green initiatives list do I see any mention of a link-up with railroad tracks or the Regional Transportation Center, although there are those 60 special green parking spots for those with enough disposable cash to buy a new hybrid car. And the 19,000,000 kWhs of electricity coming from renewable sources at the Carousel Center--apparently equivalent to taking more than 2,300 cars off the road for one year--which is especially significant, given that the vision of DestiNY USA is to be "a place some 130 million people can reach within a single day’s drive." (But perhaps some of the trash thrown from the cars from those millions of visitors onto Interstates 81 and 690 can be recycled into renewable energy!)

Why is it that a city that chose to pursue green technology because it identified environmental and energy systems as its strongest regional assets still wants to spend its leisure time under a glass roof? Is it the obsession, or have Syracusans been in enclosed malls for so long that they can no longer think outside the box?

May 14, 1982
The Road Race Less Traveled

1 comment:

Chris Rusho said...

Salina St == Fremont St in more ways than one. Maybe they can call it "Sparkles over Salina."