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Author Archives: Dominic Robinson

An Update on the Evolution of Northside UP

Written by Dominic Robinson  • January 1, 2017

Editor’s note: In July of 2015 we shared a post about the changes Northside UP would soon be undergoing with the goal of expanding programming across the community, while maintaining a commitment to the continued revitalization of Syracuse’s Northside neighborhood. This post is an update on the article and where Northside UP will progress in 2017.

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Dear Friends and Community Partners,

Northside UP, originally the Northside Collaboratory, began in 2006 rooted in a collaborative approach towards the goal of radically improving the quality of life on the Northside. In June of 2015, Northside UP relocated its offices from our long-time home on North Salina Street to downtown’s Pike Block. This move was part of our team’s evolving role and work within the Syracuse community.

Since our official incorporation as the Economic Inclusion division under CenterState CEO in 2016, we’ve spent a great deal of energy revisiting our role on the Northside and the work we were known for in the neighborhood. While our workforce and small business development initiatives readily adapted to be citywide, we realized that our roles as convener and connecter on the Northside was as critical as ever.  Over this past spring and summer, we met with neighbors and partners to discuss and design how to continue our work on the Northside. We’re excited to announce that our planning efforts culminated in a fresh structure for Northside UP as a program administered by CenterState CEO’s Economic Inclusion team. Under the guidance of a community-led steering committee, and with staff support from my colleagues Stasya Erickson and Jonathan Link Logan, Northside UP will continue to harness the power of partnership for improving the health and strengthening the economy of the Northside. Moving forward, Stasya and Jonathan will be serving as Co-Directors of Northside UP, while I continue to provide support and guidance. Stay tuned for more details in the weeks and months to come.

We look forward to working together in this mission so that we may create a vibrant and prosperous Northside community that embraces diversity and fosters opportunity for all. Please feel free to contact Stasya (serickson@centerstateceo.com), Jonathan (jlinklogan@centerstateceo.com), or me (drobinson@centerstateceo.com) with any questions. Happy New Year!

Sincerely,

Dominic

 

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Changes for Northside UP

Written by Dominic Robinson  • July 13, 2015

Dear Friends and Community Partners,

Over the past year, my team and I have been going through a strategic planning process to determine how to best continue our contributions to the revitalization of our community. As a part of our planning, we’ve had to wrestle with the fact that much of the work has begun to expand beyond the Northside. In particular, our efforts in workforce and small business development have increasingly become city-wide in nature. As those programs have expanded, we’ve learned that they can become much more efficient and impactful at scale. In other words, by expanding beyond a single neighborhood, we can actually create more opportunities and sustain our efforts within the Northside over time. This reality has challenged us to reexamine our organizational structure and position within the community.

After many conversations and much consideration, we are entering into a new phase for our partnership, which is defined by this goal: expand programming across the community, while maintaining a commitment to the continued revitalization of Syracuse’s Northside neighborhood.

This new phase will bring with it many changes to our partnership, the first of which is to further align ourselves with our parent organization, CenterState CEO. As a regional economic development and business leadership organization, CenterState CEO gives our team the operating capacity needed to run programs at scale – and provides greater visibility to our work and access to resources and opportunities. In order to more fully align with CenterState CEO, we’ve decided to move our offices into the CenterState CEO headquarters, on the corner of Salina and West Fayette Street, in downtown Syracuse. We also will be rebranding our partnership to better communicate the evolution of our work and role.

This does not mean, however, that our work is leaving the Northside. Our team will continue to work closely with Northside community leaders, business and property owners, and St. Joseph’s Hospital, to further revitalize the neighborhood.

We strongly believe that our strategic changes will only enhance our impact on the Northside. To ensure that we are maintaining a “boots on the ground” approach, we are partnering with NEHDA (the Northeast Hawley Development Association) to assist in some of our community organizing and convening efforts. While we’ve enjoyed a strong partnership with NEHDA over the years, we believe that there’s significant opportunity to further enhance each other’s efforts and eliminate redundancies between our teams. Ultimately, working more closely with NEHDA allows us to create a stronger voice for the Northside – and a better deployment of resources and energies. This arrangement ensures the long term viability of both organizations.

While we’re moving less than 10 blocks down the street, we recognize that this move represents significant change. Nonetheless, we remain steadfast in our commitment to the work that we’ve been blessed to do for the better part of the past decade. My team and I have been having individual conversations with our Northside partners to communicate these changes. If anyone would like to discuss this further, please feel free to reach out.

Sincerely,

Dominic

Got a question or comment? Get in touch with us at info@northsideup.org with the subject: CHANGES.

Demolition of the Otisca Building

Written by Dominic Robinson1 Comment • May 24, 2012

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.

Then & Now: Why we’re here

Written by Dominic Robinson  • February 16, 2012

Imagine a place bustling with life. Serene streets, lined with sturdy houses, where the sidewalks are teaming each morning with adults and children, walking to work and school.  A place where a Saturday afternoon’s errands can be done on foot, and where you know the owner of each business you visit. A place where children play in yards, on streets and in parks, and parents and neighbors look out for them.  There is a sense of community in this place and a quality of life that is hard to measure.

This place existed on the Northside of Syracuse for the better part of 100 years. The mostly German and Italian families that settled the Northside were hardly rich, but they lived in abundance. Throughout its history, the neighborhood was defined by its quality of life, at least until after World War II. Then the factories started to leave, and the highways were built, choking the neighborhood and luring families to newly built suburbs – an exodus fueled further by racial tensions that emerged as the area started to diversify. Over time, the place was filled with vacancy. Houses were abandoned and storefronts were boarded. Those who remained found that their neighborhood was less safe and offered fewer opportunities.

It’s important to remember, however, that while the Northside has declined in many respects, it has never lost its vitality. Even in the midst of many challenges, the Northside has remained true to its roots, existing as a place of refuge and hope.  As the neighborhood lost much of its original population, new communities moved in – from African Americans, spreading throughout Syracuse after desegregation – to immigrants and refugees, from South and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East – to mostly white young professionals, searching for an urban environment. All of them came seeking something better, just like the first Northsiders. One needs only to stand on a street corner to feel the energy here. Watch, as people from almost every part of the world, many dressed in bright native clothing, walk down sidewalks, past majestic churches, in and out of laundromats, bakeries, and markets.  A world’s worth of music projects from cars and apartment windows, while the scents of varied cuisines waft from kitchens into the streets.  Things might not be perfect, but life still abounds.

The big difference today is a lack of economic opportunities. Most Northsiders are still working class; it’s just that many of them can’t find good work. People here still dream of owning homes and starting businesses; they just have a harder time turning those dreams into reality. This lack of opportunities translates into more poverty, which means greater instability – which results in pockets of crime and blight. These challenges are only part of the story, however, and they are certainly not the end of the script. Slowly, but surely, the Northside is coming back. Every month we see new investments in the community. Historic buildings are being rehabbed, luring middle class residents and new business owners. Meanwhile, some Northsiders are working up from poverty and are buying homes and starting businesses themselves. Pockets of the neighborhood are emerging as creative hubs, as young artists and professionals congregate and convert abandoned places into vibrant spaces.

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