The $255 Million Dollar Question: Should Public Funds Be Allocated to Construct a New Domed Stadium for Syracuse University?

The Carrier Dome seats 49,262 people and sits on the campus of Syracuse University. Since its construction in 1980, the Carrier dome changed the skyline of the city with its pillow topped roof. It is the only domed stadium in the Northeast, and is the largest building of its kind on a college campus. When constructed, it was ahead of other colleges and universities which quickly allowed Syracuse University to break attendance records for major sporting events. That was then, now sports fans and industry observers all agree, it’s time for a new arena.

It came as no surprise, when Syracuse University indicated plans to seek public dollars to fund Carrier Dome renovations.  Syracuse University announced in May that it would need to spend at least $255 million on upgrades to the Carrier Dome and Archbold Gymnasium. Divided into 3 sections, the upgrades will include a new roof, interior and exterior renovations. Expensive when compared to $26.9 million cost for the Carrier Dome, which included a $2.75 million naming gift from Carrier Corporation.

Carrier Dome with its iconic pillow top

Carrier Dome with its iconic pillow top (click on image to enlarge)

The question of New York State partially financing the new facility for Syracuse University is this, “Should public funds be allocated to construct a new domed stadium for Syracuse University?” For decades, cities and states have courted sports teams through substantial appropriations for new arenas and stadiums, sums that have grown along with the facilities’ price tags—despite the shrieks of economists who consider them a poor use of public money.

Leaving Money on the Table?

One argument for dome funding is if we don’t take the money it will go downstate, at a time when Central New York deserves the state’s support of large projects such as the dome project. By not supporting a new stadium complex, are we leaving money on the development table?

With Governor Cuomo’s stroke of a pen, $50 million dollars were appropriated to upgrade the New York State Fairgrounds, $30 million for the new Lakeview Amphitheater, $10 million for the Onondaga Creek Walk and $1 million for the renovation of a long abandoned train platform.  You can view the historic train platform from highway 690; traveling at 55 miles per hour, don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Syracuse University’s Virtual Wall

Syracuse University's "Campus City"

Syracuse University’s “Campus City” (click on image to enlarge)

When Syracuse University sought to expand into the community we simply said yes, turning over major city streets, we embraced their design concepts and future growth prospects for the university. Recently, the university captured another street to construct a promenade for their institutional use.

Syracuse University’s long range plan includes; closing South Campus, consolidating their housing into university branded, “City Neighborhoods” within the north campus footprint.

These, “City Neighborhoods” are going to be segregating Syracuse University, an urban campus, from the City of Syracuse. These new plans are a total reversal from former S.U. Chancellor Cantor’s “Community Engagement” policy that saw the university as part of the city, one integrated community. These plans for the future, erects a virtual wall between Syracuse University and its host city. With the unveiling of Syracuse University’s future growth plans, should we appropriate any public funds to a private university to construct a sports arena?

Economic Development for Whom?

Destiny USA Hotel (under construction)

Destiny USA Hotel (under construction) click on image to enlarge

It has become in vogue to distribute billions in New York State funds to entities that promise jobs to the African-American community. Employment numbers for the African-American Community are not improving, this questions the results of these initiatives pitched as Development Projects.  The question is development for whom? And how is giving money to private corporations and universities, different from personal Welfare? This is welfare on a grand scale, unimaginable to the average citizen.

Even with laws supporting Minority and Woman hiring initiatives under Equal Employment Opportunity statutes, large portions of the African-American Community are not being employed and remain in dire straits, after decades of governmental and private “investments” in economic development projects.

COR Development Syracuse Inner Harbor

COR Development Syracuse Inner Harbor (click on image to enlarge)

For example the Destiny USA Hotel through the Onondaga County Development Agency received a 12 year deal that will save the mall developer $6.4 million in taxes. Currently, we have dozens of projects that temporarily are in a position not to pay various taxes and fees. The result is an ongoing structural reduction in operating funds for the City of Syracuse driven partially by the Onondaga County Development Agency’s PILOT payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreements. The county’s program has the power to give away the city’s ability to control granting of special tax status.  The City of Syracuse is also culpable, previously giving away future tax revenue like Skittles candy on Halloween.

Oink, Oink

Poverty Map of Syracuse

Poverty Map of Syracuse (click on map to enlarge)

Syracuse University and private entrepreneurs are looking at our tax dollars as a giant sugar teat. And like piglets on a teat, these enterprises lineup for their turn at “tax incentives”, the mother’s milk of development. Without our elected leaders questioning their history of creating jobs, more and more dollars are allocated.

Cities in downstate New York tie tangible community benefits, including; jobs, green space, and mixed income tenancy, as part of their contract documents, only recently has the Syracuse Common Council acted to force developers to hire city residents. With many jobs being union mandated, it’s easy to skirt the new law when it comes to hiring African-Americans, “we can’t find any”.

Within the Syracuse community we have an abysmal poverty rate among African-Americans, most living in census tracks with 65.2% subsisting in extreme poverty.  This ranks Syracuse among the poorest places in America for African-Americans.

And yet, when it’s time to build and think big, it’s the African-American community’s impoverished status that’s used as chum (fish bait) for these funds. If you notice these projects are always under the guise of Economic Development.

Meanwhile on South Avenue

Price Right Ground Breaking

Price Right Ground Breaking (click on image to enlarge)

Organizers spent a decade to secure funding, in a community led campaign for a supermarket in the South Avenue Business District. After 10 years of citizen lobbying, Price Right Supermarket will lease the building once completed. At the ribbon cutting; City, County, and New York State officials gathered in the 95 degree heat to repeat over and over again, how difficult it was to piece together funds to finance this relatively tiny project, its cost shared by various agencies.

Our state has allocated over $80 million dollars quickly for favored projects, while audibly whining about how difficult it is to create an environment that generates jobs, and business ownership opportunities to Syracuse’s inner-city residents.

It took decades for our ostrich inspired leaders to pull their collective heads out of the sand. Decades for elected representatives to take notice, and now pretending to focus on the prevalence of poverty in our city.

Price Right Store

Price Right Store

There’s immediate concern when it’s revealed that Syracuse’s large numbers of poor, threatens our ability to grow and attract new residents and businesses.

With the Trojan Horse inspired consolidation of Syracuse within a larger, wealthier Onondaga County demographic, the impoverished of Syracuse will statistically disappear, a bureaucratic version of Urban Renewal.  You could call it “virtual” Urban Renewal.

The Interstate 81 Project will displace thousands of people regardless of which plan is chosen.  Many forces are salivating over the reallocation of property once the crumbling highway is removed and or replaced.

Removal of Syracuse Housing Authority Public Housing Units

Syracuse Housing Authority headquarters and residents of, Central Village, Pioneer Homes and more are going to be removed. Many relocated during the Interstate 81 reconfiguration will never return. SHA has already agreed to sell off much of what we know as Pioneer Homes and Central Village. As our medical & education industries grow they need additional space. Public Housing sits on prime real-estate that multiple interests want desperately.

St Patricks Residential

St. Patrick’s Residential Lofts (click on image to enlarge)

But when it’s time to allocate funds for anything to improve the quality of life in the African-American community there’s a chorus from City of Syracuse, Onondaga County and New York State government officials that, “there is no money to support your project”.

Violence and its first cousin “despair”, find a friendly environment in Syracuse. Developers receive millions in tax reduction incentives. Development bait includes an exemption from paying taxes on building materials. Other lures include years of paying little to no property taxes, in some cases tax relief lasts for a few years, others are given relief for decades.

Hundreds of high-end housing units flooding downtown and other neighborhoods, are partially funded through tax breaks. The neighborhood-based property owners make up for the loss and are inadvertently funding freebees given developers in exchange for the promise of thousands of low paying jobs.

Interstate 81 new viaduct

Interstate 81 new viaduct (click on image to enlarge)

I love seeing cranes in the air, it shows growth and change, and this is just the beginning.  The Interstate 81 project alone is going to cost well over $1.2 billion dollars. The aforementioned number doesn’t take into account relocation cost of residents and developers reclamation of the area. A ground level boulevard will create many opportunities for rebuilding and redevelopment, along the newly defined corridor.

The realignment of roads, expansion of the high-end rental market, reduction in the size of Syracuse Housing Authority properties, and Syracuse University’s projects will change the makeup of our city. The poor and working poor will be priced out of many parts of Syracuse as development occurs, housing availability in the city will push the poor into new, yet undefined boundaries.

Since the residents of Syracuse have to scrimp and tax to patch our crumbling infrastructure, and fund our local schools, perhaps it’s time for Syracuse University to dip into their Endowment Fund worth in excess of 1.5 billion, find $255 million and build their own stadium.