Monday, May 19, 2008

Case Study - Syracuse, NY - Vol. 1

This post on the seat of Onondaga County will serve as a case study by immersion rather than past experience and research as has characterized all previous case studies. Bear with me as present tense is used in most instances and anecdotes.

My first ride on Amtrak in 18 years did not get off on the right foot. Arriving at the station the recommended thirty minutes early for a 10:43 departure, I noticed that the actual anticipated arrival of the Lake Shore Limited #48 would be 11:10. In a mixed bag of transportation consequence, it was announced at 11 that the train was held up 25 minutes west of Rochester by freight traffic. This really speaks to the points of those like Kunstler who cry loudly for a refurbishment of the original passenger rail system across the country. While sitting in the station, no fewer than five duel-engined freight trains came barreling through the rail yard. I suppose passengers and their current ridership levels are low man on the totem pole with respect to track pecking order.

As far as the ride itself, it is actually surpassing all of my expectations. It is amazingly quiet, even compared to a personal vehicle. I have way more leg room than airline coach and two AC outlets for electronics. After passing through places like Lyons and Clyde, I arrived in Syracuse a little before 1PM. The intermodal transport station is directly across the street from the Central New York Regional Market, my next destination.

The market presented me with the strange sense of being in both a comfortable and uncomfortable surrounding at the same time. Having just come from a familiar public market layout, the multiple sheds, aisles, and wholesalers of Syracuse's version may as well have been the Karachi market. Some notables: King Ferry Winery was present, makers of my favorite wine, Treleaven Dry Riesling. I didn't see much fresh fish or meat. The eateries were of wider variety and more interspersed. The gem of the place is a cash and carry called Buda's which stocks incredible deals like $0.50 Snicker's Marathon Bars, $1.50 bags of cheese curds, and $2.50/pound unsliced turkey breast in a giant walk-in cooler area.

After picking up energy bars and passing on the curds (refrigeration issues), I explained to the people that I was meeting in town that I was completely insane and would meet them again downtown since I had intended to sample and evaluate the Centro, Syracuse's public bus service, for this blog. Knowing that I was traveling Route 116, I almost made a grave tactical error when a 410 toward Nedrow showed up and I initially passed on it. Then thinking about Syracuse geography, I quickly consulted my timetable which had a note in the fine print about buses heading toward the city. It read that the bus would display the number of the route it would become after passing through downtown. So after briefly considering calling for a lifeline, I decided to run and cutoff the bus before it could get out of the transit loop. (Photo courtesy of Centro)

Once aboard I met a man who unknowingly would serve as a fine ambassador of the City of Syracuse. Originally from New York City, this man spent one year in college in Fredericksburg, Virginia acknowledging that it "is not for everybody." But in this age of people held captive by their GPS navigation systems, a simple address, 313 E. Willow St. was enough for this man to steer me toward the optimal bus stop.

The Willow Street address in question became my revised destination by chance as a friend of the blog and a Jacobs disciple who lived "somewhere in the city" knew of a wine tasting of significant scale occuring on the ground floor of his building. As it turns out, the building itself would become the built environment focus of my Syracuse experience.

313 East Willow Street, once a shoe factory bounded by Pearl and State Streets is now the address of the excellent urban re-use project Nettleton Commons. The Nettleton building, constructed around 1882, housed the A.E. Nettleton Shoe Company until 1984. The entire building was renovated in 1988 by Holmes King Kallquist & Associates of Syracuse to accommodate office and retail space on the first floor and apartments above. Much of the original building features were saved, and the Central New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects honored Holmes King Kallquist & Associates with an award for design excellence and historical preservation.

The building, as you can see from the pictures, is mixed-use and loaded with character. From one of my favorite elements, thick wooden support beams, to exposed brick and newer brick that creates an atrium (providing interior frontage for a day spa, travel agent, and financial planner) while fitting in with the old, the designers of this project did a fine job of capturing the essence of loft apartment living.

While the details of the wine tasting as an event is a little outside the scope of this blog (though I will quickly plug for the place, Vinomania, carrier of mostly imports), the subsequent walk down Salina and Clinton Streets turned up a pleasantly surprising stock of architecture (and cubes and surface parking lots). Pictured is the Syracuse Savings Bank building. At the end of our journey was a cleared and prepped lot for the Clinton/Jefferson development (pictured earlier) along with a simple Syracuse gem, Clark's Ale House. Clark's is a pub in the London tradition. Their food menu contains only Hot Roast Beef sandwiches, Hot Turkey Sandwiches, and a mix of the two. Sides include plates of different cheeses like smoked gouda. The darts are free along with a test of inebriated ingenuity known only as "the ring."

From there, one of my companions joined me on the actual 116 route to Alliance Bank Stadium, home of the Syracuse Chiefs AAA baseball club. The ride through Syracuse's North Side was notable if only for the number of Italian restaurants passed along North Salina Street, a firmly working class district with a lot of potential (and home to a restored painted brick advertisement for Uneeda Biscuit!). Again Centro was efficient and prompt, especially in the face of a significant motoring accident at 1st North and Hiawatha. Our driver was flexible and allowed us an even more convenient drop-off for the ballgame. It was military night at the park, thus explaining the preposterous camouflage uniforms donned by the home nine. Delays of not only equipment (en route from North Carolina), but also rain created a very long ballgame eventually won by Syracuse over Rochester in extra innings.

The inital motive force behind the trip became a footnote today. Aside from a couple of hours in the Baseball Hall of Fame and museum, the Cooperstown activities were a wash both figuratively and literally. After only 11 outs were recorded, umpires pulled the most tenured teams in International League history off the field. Needless to say the downpour hindered photography efforts as minor miracles were necessary just to salvage the game program. In brief, to say Cooperstown on the Otsego lacks urbanism would be a misstatement as they make excellent use of service alleys and traditional Main Street architecture/frontage. A more apt description for this baseball tourism cluster would be lacking in diversity of users and use.

I recently boarded the 285 Empire Service and am planning on arriving in Rochester a little after 10PM. Major kudos to the Amtrak staff for allowing me to switch boarding passes to an earlier train since I arrived at the station early. Again we were delayed, but a free publication of the Empire State Passengers Association that I acquired at the William Walsh Regional Transportation Center shed some light on the state of CSX owned railway west of Albany. That and other passenger rail news from April and May are likely to be my next post. A Volume 2 regarding Syracuse is also likely in order as I have done and am aware of other things of note learned on various 1-day excursions as well as spending the summer of 2001 in the area on my first engineering internship.

1 comment:

joe lorenz said...

cool update. hope you had a great time in 'cuse. i forgot to mention to you that there is a bar in armory square, mully's, that has a framed picture of a downtown baseball stadium proposal built in the open parking lot behind the now unused susquehanna train station. i'll try to get a picture of it because it's a pretty sweet concept.

i think the new clinton/jefferson project will be great for the immediate area and should help branch out the success of armory square... perhaps even boost the struggling south end of salina street.

not sure how familiar you are with syracuse, but there's some areas you might want to check out next time you're in town if you haven't already: franklin square (a warehouse district remade into apartments and offices in the 1980's), the 5-sisters (5 awesome victorian homes on park ave in the near-west side that the city is looking to restore), tipp hill (primarily irish, working-class neighborhood with some great towny-bars and some cool, local traditions around st patties day), the hawley-green district (some great victorian architecture here and an area on the rebound).

anyway, cool update. i look forward to "volume 2".