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The Sears-Crouse Project

In 2014 this city —essentially due to shortsighted irresponsible Mayoral narcissism— lost out on a project worth 495 million dollars. Yes, nearly a half billion. The Mayor’s (Miner) disagreements caused the Governor to pull the project. All that was needed was leadership and a desire to work together. The DOME was going to be relocated on East Fayette Street adjoining downtown. Imagine the jobs, the growth, the infrastructure. This was a project with a recurring venue of such massive scope that it would have caused downtown and the East Fayette Street area to flourish. With the DOME off campus the potential for peripheral growth was amazing and massive. A rare opportunity with the largest one-time investment in the history of Syracuse lost because of selfish emotional leadership. -A devastating loss. 

With such loss there should have been a take away and lessons learned. Especially, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” and “Do not make those extremely rare few that are willing to invest in you, your well-being and your city, feel unwelcome.”

Nothing prevents wealth from investing quicker than feeling unwanted. There are others wiser and welcoming and that is where money is spent. The following is my opinion.  You be the judge:

Community leaders and activists still feeling the sting of the Blaine Street Sewage Plant and the Oxford Inn for the homeless on Clinton Street had a strong visceral opposing reaction toward a rehabilitation center for drug users being relocated to the old Sears Location on South Salina Street. This opposition placed the Mayor in a precarious position needing to balance their concerns with the value of the project to the Community. I believe that understandable emotion and historical mistreatment caused thinking that gave a false impression of what would have taken place. This caused the city to pursue a course of educating the people and attempting to win their approval with facts. In this pursuit the negativity overwhelmed the attractiveness of the project and the sponsor decided to seek another location.    

I am a strong advocate for the poor and have worked hard on political campaigns supporting candidates that would have championed their plight. It is my opinion that the South Side and the City of Syracuse just lost out on a rare and wonderful opportunity for amazing growth and improvement. This article addresses the truth verses the exaggerated concerns that cost us the project.

I am stunned and disappointed again. Along comes one of the finest employers in Syracuse: Crouse Irving Hospital. They are the place of birth for 10’s of thousands of our children including mine, and have served with the finest of contribution and distinction since their founding in 1887. All they do is give life, save life, heal injury and give value to the finest that human beings can be. And in this spirit, they wanted to completely renovate the Old Sears building, beautify the area and carry on their noble mission. The project was to establish a rehabilitation facility caring for addicts. A mission of hope and compassion.

I researched similar facilities trying to find difficulties caused by their mission. There were none. There is no increase in violence or drug activity around State-of-the-Art Rehabs. Drug dealers don’t hang around State-of-the-Art facilities where less than one in a hundred slips near the facility. This is so clear. Why did leaders fail this clear truth? Dealers and users hang around where they feel safe – where users buy in large numbers, (especially in neglected areas). This is “now” a neglected area where the drug business currently flourishes with minimal police interference. The current owner has had no offers in 30 years. Sears left a half century ago.       

Because leadership did not consider the lessons of the DOME, a reckless noisy approach was undertaken with many negative meetings over one false and destructive concern that leaders should have addressed up front. Initially a false emotional perception was accelerated that recovering addicts would add to blight. This project was lost due a few leaders that did not capture the truth and (rather than present real benefit) they portrayed old fears that did not apply. They caused many in the community to believe another dreadful project was being forced upon them. 

These leaders voiced such opposition that they destroyed the human heart of the project. A 20 million-dollar investment by a Medical facility of such caliber is not blight. It is growth encouraging health and human well-being addressing one of the major concerns of our lives with doctors, nurses and professionals. It is streets and sidewalks and pipes and trees and shops and beautification that would have caused growth from downtown to Castle Street and beyond. There is nothing to fear from doctors and nurses and professionals, and sober patients all fighting to save their families and themselves. A leader would have been proud of this project. Your first step should have been to locate and study like projects in other cities. Too seldom does hope have a chance for fruition. Shooting from the hip, opposition took this opportunity from the community based on past fears that do not apply. Perhaps not on purpose but all that was accomplished was to serve dispassion and stymie community growth and extremely rare opportunity.

Some Opponents envision shops and restaurants similar to North Salina. With neighborhood compatibility. What they are missing is that hope keeps us going but deeds only fulfill. No one has even begun such things in 50 years. First you must have appeal and safety. This is the first time a high-quality project has desired to invest and may well have been the catalyst for what they are seeking. Danger would have become safety and blight attractiveness and then they would have come.       

I understand the history of the area. I believe that justified emotion and lack of understanding had some concerned. -And I get it. There were concerns over the Oxford House (which, with leadership, would have relocated had this project gone forward) moving just a few blocks away to Clinton Street and a bad taste after the City located the sewage treatment plant on Blaine St.

It was the responsibility of City and Community leadership to show this project is far removed from taking advantage. It was up to leaders to show the only negative was false connotation – nothing real. This was likely on the road to approval. If Crouse was taking advantage, they would have stayed with it. They left because they felt that opposition was on a path equating them with Community abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. Leaders could not see the value of twenty million dollars, and the great compassion within this project, and they did not trust this elite organization founded on compassion and human well-being to operate with its highly established expertise and not only contribute to the quality of the area but provide beautification and attractiveness to spur additional growth. This is what our leaders did and that is why they left.

It is likely too late but this is an enormous loss. Perhaps an appropriate meeting could be convened. Perhaps critical naysayers may come to terms with the cost of up front negativity. Perhaps a call could still be made to Crouse.

The City needs to take a look at how they do business. I strongly urge the City to develop a first response team. An up front team to research and evaluate any major project before those that embrace negativity first, cost us another massive improvement. Today, when you drive down East Fayette Street where the DOME itself could be, you look for any sign of vibrancy. As you pass the old Sears you will continue to feel the destitution and recall better days and wonder what happened. And I hope we remember that it is the life and dreams of our citizens that lose and are left behind when leaders fail on such large scale.  

Bill McClellan