December 21, 2011

Warren Street (Part I)

If I could have one goal for this blog, it would be to reshape perception about Warren Street. In my opinion, it's Downtown's most neglected and overlooked street and what I believe to be the next domino that needs to fall in regards to restoring Downtown's vibrancy: Armory Square got redeveloped, now it's Salina Street's turn, and hopefully the positive effects will trickle out into Warren Street. I have a lot of ideas and thoughts about the street and I'm sure I'll dive into them on this blog in due time. It's one of my favorite streets in Downtown and one that I feel has the most potential for rebirth.

I randomly found this newspaper clipping as I was clearing out papers in hopes of getting my tax stuff ready for 2012. It's a few paragraphs about M Lemp Park, an open lot that sits at the corner of S Warren Street and E Fayette St, that I submitted as a letter to the Editor in the Sunday, January 16, 2011 edition of the Post-Standard.

Just for a quick history recap of M Lemp Park: a couple of buildings were demolished around the 321 S Warren St area in early 2009. Soon after, a "pocket park" was created by former mayor, Matt Driscoll, and designed to be temporary until a developer could be found to redevelop the site. In the Post-Standard article, "A new place to 'park it' on Warren Street", the previous mayor was quoted in regards to the new open space: "...Warren Street is a cold, dark, narrow, concrete canyon and I think that's one of the problems with it. As we talk to the state and developers about coming up with a plan to spruce up the infrastructure of Warren Street, I think it is important to think about opening it up a bit, letting more light in, creating some green spaces like the one we'll be building.". About a year later, Dick Case took suggestions on not only dedicating a plaque to local volunteers, but also naming the area M Lemp Park as a kind of homage to M Lemp Jewelers that sits directly across the street. The name was soon adopted by the owners, the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency, and now even appears on official Downtown Syracuse brochures.

Here were my thoughts from earlier this year...

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City’s M. Lemp Park not planned for permanence
To The Editor:

In response to Dick Case’s Jan. 13 column, “Under the snow, Syracuse’s downtown shows some signs of life”:

While the idea of using a park as a place to honor volunteers is a good one, the southeast corner of Warren and Fayette streets is the wrong location to do so.

The original design concept for M. Lemp Park was that it serve as a temporary park and lead to construction of a new building in its place, thereby restoring continuity of the streetscape, solidifying the corner and making Warren Street look like it no longer has a blatant missing tooth. Naming a park and building a memorial garden is a great idea, but to do it for an area that only functions for workers during lunch breaks is extremely shortsighted and only assures that the park is going to be around longer than it should be.

The idea of bringing more greenery downtown is good, but it should not be done at the expense of sacrificing character or restricting any potential for real development. As one of our most unique streets, Warren Street’s charm is that it’s laid out to feel condensed, narrow and enclosed (similar to New York City’s Prince Street). These aspects are dissolved when you hastily construct a large, flat green lot and plop it on the corner of a very dense urban street.

If M. Lemp Park really is a park, it looks very much out of place, is too large to be reserved for something that acts more like an open-air cafeteria, and doesn’t offer anything of real value to downtown residents.

If the city wants to add a true downtown park, it should figure out locations that function correctly, can be used by all demographics and construct them with proper design aspects. Until then, it should not be figuring out how to add remembrances of volunteers, but focusing on constructing a new building in its place, thereby giving Warren Street back its real potential.

Josef Lorenz

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I still feel very strongly about this subject and the negative impacts of what it can do to such a condensed urban area. I'm pleased I was able to word my thoughts the way I did (it's tricky to get your thoughts across in as few words as possible sometimes), but am not pleased with the way that this corner's fate has unfolded. The series of events that took place since the buildings were demolished are kind of absurd. The park's naming, design, and energy seem to be entirely spearheaded by the Post-Standard and most specifically by Dick Case, who has written (at least from what I was able to find) four different articles about the area within a year's time: Example 1, Example 2, Example 3, and Example 4. And more effort has clearly been done to add benches, signs, flowers, names, and remembrances, when the real goal should be to re-establish the continuity of the streetscape.

It would be one thing if the park was designed correctly, not located on a corner lot, not located in an area that's supposed to feel enclosed, and felt like a valuable place to be, but as it stands today, it doesn't do any of those. And, as I've mentioned several times on this blog already, why is this even needed when Clinton Square is 2 blocks away?

This is a prime example of suburbanizing Downtown. If history is any indication, my fear is that it sits here for decades because of an empty promise and because a few people wanted to dedicate an empty lot to somebody else just to feel good about themselves. Though, it is nice to know that there are fresh faces in our local government since 2009. I truly hope that this area gets redeveloped correctly and we don't get stuck with an open lot with grass on it because a few people liked the idea of "light" and "open space".

I'll leave this post at that for now and I'll dive into thoughts on the park and about Warrren Street again soon. Hence, Part I.