South Salina Street has taken every idea planners have thought would be the one. From trolleys in the street bringing shoppers from afar, to suburban block malls turned inward from the street, to plaza fever creating vast non-commercial spaces, bridges creating dark space below and now to urban parks, finally throwing in the towel and returning the land back to nature, South Salina Street has seen it all. Each and every one was well well-reasoned and the intentions were in the best interests of the City. The street has survived to this point by virtue of geography. It’s in the middle of the commercial district. Combined with its fraternal twin North Salina Street, the two tell the story of this Rust Belt city in buildings and voids. Those of us who still believe in the revitalization of Syracuse long for the day when those throngs of people and cars return to this street to shop and socialize. At this point it would be a re-animation of disparate parts, something that has been done at least in literature.
The Measure of a Street
To understand successful retail one has to recognize the age old pattern of stores and doors across the street from each other. Essential to the success of a commercial corridor is ease of back and forth activity by shoppers. The measure of the street is a careful combination of parts to make this happen including; sidewalk depth, trees and benches, parallel parking, reduced traffic lanes and repeating this on the other side of a corridor that measures between 76’ and 100’. Salina Street is about 99’ in width making it an ideal commercial location, so why has Salina struggled to grow its retail base?
Block by Block
Filling in the Erie Canal as a vast square (Clinton) instead of inserting a shallow block to temper the size and relationship of building fronts rendered the 100 block of South Salina facing north as a commercial void. Simply continuing Erie Boulevard through with storefronts opposite the old Opera House/Theaters could have made an eventual arcade with plenty of room for a square to the North. Maybe then the old stores would have stayed.
Turning the corner on the 100 block the West side of Salina offers no storefronts, a dark arcade and a bridge overhead. This takes the much needed complimentary storefronts away from those storefronts across the street in the 100 block. They will always struggle without this relationship. And it darkens the street in a place with very little sunshine.
In the 200 block of South Salina, only ¼ of the block has a building. The high-rise Chase Lincoln building was pulled back from the street to create a plaza, an idea from larger cities that gave more allowable height to the developer in exchange for open ground space.
European cities would surround this plaza with stores and restaurants creating a place or square. But this was not done. The idea of centralized mass transit (a bus station) took its place there instead which compromised the retail across the street. This grew into a loitering spot and eventually was moved further South nearer major outlet streets. The space is now a void.
Many good intentions, talent and resources are behind the effort to turn this void (Perseverance Park) into an Art park. Although an improvement on its present-day value to the city, as a park it will continue to compromise the retail across the street and the 100 percent corner as it has been termed. In addition, there are many outdoor gathering and park like amenities within a few blocks of the proposed Artpark, for example, Clinton Square, Hanover Square, and Columbus Circle.
A Park is Nice, But…
What if, like the photo below, a 60’ deep building abutted to the Chase Lincoln tower and allowed for a Salina Street lobby for the building while also creating retail pads along the length of the block? Suddenly the 200 block is reactivated, and the momentum will continue along the corridor into the Pike Block and beyond.
To get back to the image of the crowded, bustling street South Salina once was will take some re-thinking of what has been done over the years. Continuance, activity from stores and doors, bright, clear storefront glass and good sidewalks sound basic but all are necessary to make this happen. The bones exist. South Salina Street is waiting for activation.