Cities that claim to be at the center of pursuing an environmentally sustainable way of living really shouldn't be entering various stages of meltdown because a stretch of interstate is shut down for two and a half weeks. Inconvenient? Well, so are unshoveled—or non-existent—sidewalks, the pedestrian equivalent of a closed-down highway, but Syracusans have been complaining about this problem to city hall every winter for at least 44 years to no avail.
Truth be told, I don't care much for March Madness, but I took interest in this year's contest, if only because I've lived in two of the regional tournament cities and currently reside in a third. Sure, several Rhode Island towns recently flooded due in part to sprawl and dead malls, but during the first round of the tournament, fans of the eight schools in the matchups could walk to the mall, restaurants, hotels and a special lighting of Waterfire from the Dunkin' Donuts Center in downtown Providence. Salt Lake City's gridded blocks are longer walks than they appear on a map, but there is light rail available downtown to transport fans from the arena to the bars (yes, there are bars in Salt Lake City). Save for a taxi or shuttle ride from the airport, you could easily spend two or three days in each city without having to rent a car. Could the same be done in Syracuse?
Click on the "Getting Around" tab of the Syracuse Convention and Visitor Bureau website, and you'll only find a list of rental car companies and taxis:
In their Spring Visitors Guide, with special NCAA tournament section, only two of the six suggested attractions could potentially be reached by foot from the SU campus, and the other four aren't even within walking distance of each other:
The "Getting Around" section in the booklet? More driving directions:
The guide assumes you must have a car, as only driving directions are provided for Armory Square:
Granted, unlike Providence, Salt Lake City, or many of the host stadiums in other regional cities, the Carrier Dome is first and foremost the home of Syracuse University basketball and football, so it is appropriate that it is located within walking distance for students. At the time of the Dome's construction, Armory Square was, apparently, nothing more than a "hangout for muggers and prostitutes" (even though the Discovery Center opened in November 1981, a Glen Miller Orchestra concert held at the New York State Armory in the same month sold out, and Edward Butler, the original pioneer of Armory Square who opened the Packing House Row Cafe in the Hall-McChesney Building in 1973, spoke on behalf of the 50-member Armory Square Business District Association at the time stating that the claim that the district is a "jungle" is "a myth."—Syracuse Herald-American, November 8, 1981). That the city's most notable nightlife area developed outside of a walkable distance from the Dome cannot be criticized, given the independent histories of each. Still, while other cities advertise their walking proximity to other attractions, the only non-automobile option to get from the Dome to Armory Square at this time is the Connective Corridor bus, with a route with enough turns that it looks like the NCAA bracket itself:
Yet the situation could have been even more dire, had the Dome been built at its original suggested location. Imagine tailgating with engineers in the Lockheed Martin parking lot:
The consultants making the study...along with county planners, looked at several sites and came up with the Salina site as an ideal example of a location for the stadium.
Reasoning for this selection...was based on the site being near a Thruway exchange, the county owns the land and has designated it solely for recreational use, it would be near General Electric's parking lot, which could be used by stadium-goers during non-working hours, and also the construction of the stadium would improve drainage problems in the area. (Syracuse Herald-Journal, May 12, 1976)
At the same time the MDA was promoting skybridges downtown in order to give the area "a shot in the arm," MDA President John Searles commissioned a study regarding "facility requirements for mass spectator events in Syracuse and Onondaga County." (Syracuse Herald-American, March 7, 1976). Though it was understood that the main use of the stadium would be for the SU football team, which had been threatened with lower status games if did not replace the 70-year old Archbold Stadium, the university "[did] not appear overly concerned about the stadium situation" at the time of the MDA's announcement (Post-Standard, March 23, 1976). Searles hired the Arena Group, which had been involved in the planning of Rich Stadium in Buffalo, Cincinnati Riverfront Coliseum, and Schaeffer Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Both the county and planners envisioned a 50,000-seat outdoor stadium, similar to the one Arena Group had designed for Iowa State University:
As the consultants worked on the study, speculation abounded where the new stadium could be built. The frontrunnner appeared to be...Allied Wastebeds :
A 45,000 to 55,000 seat Syracuse University football stadium on large portions of reclaimed Allied Chemical wastebeds between Onondaga Lake and State Fairgrounds is being seriously considered.
Such a development would mean a major improvement of a now undesirable area, which is not used except for parking at State Fair time. (Post-Standard editorial, April 7, 1976).
Wait, these wastebeds? The ones for which a human health risk assessment indicated "a probability of developing cancer as a result of exposure to Site contaminants is at the upper end of, but does not exceed, EPA’s target risk range for acceptable exposures and that the non-cancer health hazard is slightly above EPA’s threshold, meaning that non-cancer health effects are possible, primarily from inhalation of manganese in dust" for those engaged in ATV riding or other off-trail activities on a recent proposed bike trail on the site? What sort of dust would construction of a 50,000 seat stadium kick up?
Or these wastebeds?
Representatives of The Arena Group described one of the...sites as "a natural" for a stadium, according to M. James Campbell of Allied Chemical Corp., who is also president of the Manufacturers Association of Syracuse.A stadium half buried in "mounded lagoons consist[ing] of calcium carbonate and chlorides which were generated during the manufacture of soda ash using the 'Solvay Process'...wastes from the Bridge Street Chlor-alkali plant and chlorinated benzene from the Willis Avenue plant...consist[ing] of mercury, asbestos, lead, wash water, and wastes generated at the chlorinated benzene plant....fly ash and bottom ash from the manufacturing plants, sewage sludge from the Onondaga County wastewater treatment plant, brewery sludge from the Anheuser Bush brewery in Baldwinsville and brine purification mud from the Allied plant"? One can only imagine the lasting impression this would leave with visiting fans.
The site is three former wastebeds, just northwest of the New York State Fairgrounds at the border of the towns of Camillus and Geddes. Campbell said the beds—68 acres on one side and and 51 acres on the other— flank a flat area that could be the playing field. Grandstands could be built into the existing slopes by driving piles through the beds to the earth below.
Campbell said representatives from The Arena Group explained "it was always better to have a stadium half buried so you could come in the middle and go down or up (to your seat)." (Post-Standard, May 15, 1976)
Fortunately, The Arena Group found more appealing what so many other Syracusans did at the time: the residential suburbs.
The subject of controversy is one page of the 54-page Phase I Feasibility Study by the Arena Group of Atlanta, Georgia.
What that one page says is that four sites were "considered" and one, near the corner of Hopkins Road and Seventh North Street in the Town of Salina, "seems to be the best."
The site review which has so excited the county, said Searles, consisted of one day in which the consultants, representatives of the Syracuse and Onondaga County Planning Agency and the MDA drove to five sites in the county selected by local people, not the Arena Group.
There have been no soil samples, no surveys, and no plans drawn. The group did not even get out of the car at two of the locations. (Post-Standard, May 15, 1976)
Oot Meadows had developed on the promise of custom-built homes in the 1960s
but certainly had never planned for a 50,000 seat stadium to be custom-built across the street a decade later:
"The concept of placing a stadium in a residential community of about 1,000 homes is pure arrogance," said an angry Councilman John Stevens.
Stevens, who said he was collecting petitions of residents who oppose the stadium, said John Searles, executive vice-president of the MDA, should be ashamed for supporting such an idea.
"Such arrogance by Mr. Searles and the MDA is unforgivable," he said. (Post-Standard, May 11, 1976)
After the uproar, the MDA formed a Municipal Stadium Committee, with its 15 members drawn from the city, county and business community, but no representatives from the university (Syracuse Herald-Journal, June 7, 1976). By October 1976, over 30 sites were under consideration. When Harlan Swift, banker and chairman of the Greater Buffalo Development Foundation, spoke at an MDA luncheon that month, he offered the group some advice:
The following week, Mayor Lee Alexander suggested a downtown location for the new stadium:
Swift said a study done before [Rich] stadium was built "pointed to a considerable economic impact if it was located downtown." But, he said, "we did it wrong and built it in the suburbs."
He said, "We put it outside, and it just sits there. The Bills have nine or 10 games a year, and there's one or two rock concerts." (Syracuse Herald-Journal, October 13, 1976)
Eager to rid the city of the former Sears store property, 1300 South Salina Street, ownership of which was never wanted in the first place, Mayor Lee Alexander yesterday revealed he has offered the 8.57 acres as a site for a municipal stadium.
The mayor saw construction of the stadium in the area occupied by the empty former Sears store as "contributing enormously to restoring lost vitality and serving as a boon to downtown."
"The $15 million construction activity would itself be an economic catalyst for downtown Syracuse—that would have a multiplier effect on the entire community," the mayor wrote [John] McAuliffe [stadium committee chair].
He saw another advantage of stimulated commercial activity accruing from stadium operations.
Alexander recognized that while the 8.57 acres might be sufficient for the stadium, additional space would be needed for parking.
He appeared optimistic that acquiring some of the area's abandoned property for parking would help eliminate blights that now "plague the section." (Post-Standard, October 23, 1976)
Days later, the Stadium Committee announced their choice for the ideal site for the new stadium:
An 80-acre site near Baldwinsville, in the town of Van Buren, was revealed today as the site for a proposed 50,000-seat sports stadium for Onondaga County. (Syracuse Herald-Journal, October 26, 1976)
Granted, activity had left downtown for suburbs in late 70s, but Van Buren? How exactly would a sports stadium reinvigorate the city if built in Van Buren? And why exactly would SU football be played in Van Buren?
Here we go again.
A contractor—Santaro-Taronson, Inc.—with 80 acres of land for which he no longer has any use offers it for "free" as a site for a proposed 50,000-seat football stadium.
The committee which is spearheading the drive to involve the county in financing the project—the Metropolitan Development Association, most especially—virtually trips over itself to grab it.
Never mind that the land is located in the Town of Van Buren, away from any significant population center.
Never mind that there's no easy or cheap public transportation to it.
Never mind that there's no network of roads to handle the kind of traffic 50,000 football fans would generate on game day (assuming that there are that many fans in the area, which is doubtful).
It's free and that's all that seems to matter.
The cost of access roads and sewers [for Community General Hospital, also built on donated land] made the "free" site far more expensive than a number of center city sites that had been proposed...
The same kind of something-for-nothing thinking put Onondaga Community College on a "free" site on Onondaga Hill instead of downtown Syracuse, where it should have gone to serve the students of limited means who most needed a college of this type.
It's ironic that the very people who wring their hands about the plight of downtown Syracuse should be in the forefront of the drive to take the stadium—if one is ever built—away from downtown.
This is especially so in view of Mayor Lee Alexander's offer of approximately 17.5 acres [on the former Sears site]. And he offers it without cost, too!
Cities throughout the country have begun to build their new stadiums downtown—not in remote and hard-to-reach rural areas.
New Orleans put its vast Superdome about a Johnny Bench home run drive from the intersection of its main business streets.
St. Louis Busch Stadium, Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, among others, have been built downtown and the people like them; they patronize them by the scores of thousands.
There seems to be a fixation among Syracuse stadium committee members that each seat in a stadium must be accompanied by a parking spot.
Yet Tiger Stadium in Detroit and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx—downtown and each on a fraction of 80 acres with a minimum of adjacent parking space—draw capacity crowds up to 55,000 in Detroit and the Bronx many times during a baseball season.
A downtown site in Syracuse—the Sears site, specifically—can be easily reached by buses from all parts of the city and county.
What's more, football games generally are played on Saturday afternoons when most of the business offices are closed. The thousands of spaces used by employees of the State Tower, City Hall, the Federal, State and County office buildings, Mony and Carrier Towers, Lincoln One are all available for football fans.
The Stadium Committee, in releasing its projections on how the stadium could be financed, indicated that, as in Buffalo, the name of the stadium could be sold for $1,000,000.
The Santaro-Taroson of the 80-acre site in Van Buren has one little proviso in it—that the stadium be named Santaro Field (or Stadium) after Mr. Santaro's father.
A "free" site, eh? About a million dollars worth, that's all.
(Syracuse Herald-Journal editorial, October 27, 1976)
And thus the game was on. Van Buren rejected the proposed stadium as well, with homeowners in the area sharing the same concerns as Salina residents had six months earlier. Although the suburbs wanted nothing to do with a 50,000-seat stadium in their backyard, the Stadium Committee wanted everything to do with suburbs. This map highlights the various sites given serious consideration at the time:
View Potential "Community Stadium" Sites, 1976-1978 in a larger map
Meanwhile, when city residents gathered to openly welcome the stadium in their neighborhood, the Stadium Committee didn't bother to show up:
City residents and city councilors met last night to cheer a proposal to locate a stadium inside the city, but nobody was listening.
John R. Searles, Jr., executive director of the Metropolitan Development Association and spokesman for the stadium committee, said last night the City Commissioner of Community Development David S. Michel had told him earlier in the day that the hearing on the two city sites would be called off.
Michel didn't mention that when he told the city councilors that he would convey to the committee their dismay at the fact that nobody from the stadium committee was at the hearing.
Surprisingly, Michel also didn't mention that he had a "football-field sized hole" of his own on South Salina Street to find a developer for at the time. Alas, Searles had probably already informed him of the impossibility of a downtown stadium:
Searles said later that he was disappointed that no one from his committee was there to explain why the city sites offered couldn't be used. "No one was there who knows anything about stadiums," said Searles.
He said the least expensive type of stadium—a bowl excavated out of the earth—requires a significant amount of real estate and good sub-surface soil.
"The only good site anywhere near downtown," said Searles, "is the existing Archbold Stadium." (Post-Standard, November 24, 1976)
And after three more years of blocks and tackles by the suburbs (as well as various political playcalling), the stadium did end up on the Archbold site, albeit with an added dome on top. Thousands of fans have ventured in from Salina, Van Buren, DeWitt and other residential communities to the Dome in the three decades since, minus the promise of a 10,000-12,000 parking lot on the premises.
Thirty years ago, the push to build a new stadium came from the threat of the football program losing its legendary status. Archbold, once considered the "finest stadium and athletic field in the country," had become a relic, as competing universities built 50,000-100,000 seat stadiums. Coaches insisted a large, modern stadium was necessary to recruit top players:
And, for that matter, top college coaches:
"We just don't have a stadium to compete with the major schools," said Russ Wickerham, an offensive line coach. "If a kid goes to Michigan, he sees a stadium with 100,000 seats, or if he goes to Ohio State, there's 80,000. I'm scared to show some of my recruits our stadium."
"Everyone uses Archbold against us," head coach Frank Maloney admits. "When I was at Michigan, a high priority part of a recruit's visit was seeing the stadium. Here, we show it if the kids want to see it but certainly not to sell the beauty of it. We can't hide it, either. Every prospect has some idea of where they're going to be playing." (Post-Standard, February 25, 1976)
The reason why I was so attracted to the Syracuse job was there was no better way they could show a commitment to football than erecting the Carrier Dome. So it was visible that they wanted to be successful. And the thing that I loved about the character of our chancellor, Mel Eggers, was that he said this to the student body: “The further away from the campus that a football stadium is built, the further away football will be from academia.” And I think we’ve stressed the point all across the nation, that right in the middle of campus, is the Carrier Dome. It’s great for the students, because they all walk by it all the time, and it was the perfect situation and I think that it gave us all the things we needed to be successful, and we were.
Support for a new stadium certainly wasn't unanimous. Concerned residents expressed their outrage that the county would be funding a stadium, when budgets were being cut for education, parks and other community services. Many argued that if Archbold couldn't even sell out 27,000 seats (the final season promised a number of promotions and giveaways to ticketholders, including the raffle of a new car), how could they fill 50,000?
There were many divisive issues surrounding the location, financing, use and necessity of the "Municipal Stadium," but there seemed to be a general understanding that the nature of the football program would change if it continued to play in Archbold in its then-condition. As the money, media and business surrounding NCAA football increased with every passing year (which is its own controversy), how long could the historic Archbold lasted? Might have it become Syracuse's own version of Fenway Park, with a similar list of additions and renovations added on to both preserve the past and acknowledge the seating and technological demands of the present? Or, more realistically, would it have met its fate a year or two later than it did, as it became clear that the institution couldn't maintain a high caliber program amidst an aging infrastructure from a different era that gave top flight talent the impression that the place looked liked it was unaware—or simply didn't care—about the future of the game?
So why is it that when the area is faced with a similar relic of a mass transit system, with bus-only public transportation since 1941, there is no similar outcry about modernization? Is Syracuse not interested in recruiting the young people who are drawn to walk- and bike-friendly cities? The tourists who may want to leave their car at home? Yes, just as with the stadium, there are a host of concerns and arguments surrounding this one issue, and multiple physical, political and financial barriers. Thirty years ago, a formal study into the project began before any of these questions had been addressed, which unfortunately got the community riled up. On a more positive note, the community got riled up: articles and letters to the editor about the new stadium dominated the newspaper almost every day for two years. Is there any formal discussion about mass transit in Syracuse at this time, other than the "Community Planning and Transportation Public Survey" (linked on front page of City of Syracuse website), a paltry six-question survey that barely mentions transportation? Or this recent Centro headline, which couldn't be more ironically placed? (from Syracuse.com, February 27, 2010)
Interestingly enough, one of the next sporting events in Syracuse to draw athletes and fans from nationwide will involve the ultimate champions of pedestrian paths and bike trails: Ironman triathletes. For one fall Sunday morning and afternoon (eight hours, to be exact), approximately 3,000 runners and cyclists will have priority on the Syracuse city and suburban streets. The final leg will take the athletes from Jamesville through downtown to their final destination at the Inner Harbor, a journey that city leaders have been claiming they want Syracusans to make with every development initiative and downtown condo conversion. If the streets were made welcome for cyclists and pedestrians for more than eight hours a year, maybe this plan could finally become a winner.