One year ago, right about this time, we gathered for the 2020 State of the City. There was a crowd of more than 400 people. We sat side by side in rows just a few feet apart. In keeping with tradition, young people offered the Pledge of Allegiance; a city high school student sang the national anthem; and there was a color guard to present the flag. We talked about a window of opportunity available to us if we work together.
It feels like both a lifetime ago and just yesterday. I’d never heard of social distancing. Hand sanitizer was a “nice to have.” Masks were for surgical suites or Halloween.
Just a few weeks later the Coronavirus descended upon Syracuse and upended all of the norms we’ve grown accustomed to. No one would have imagined a State of the City address presented without a live audience or Common Councilors unable to meet in Chambers and forced instead to carry out their legislative duties via WebEx. President Hudson, President Pro Tem Bey, Majority Whip Driscoll, Minority Leader Carni and Councilors Allen, Greene, Hogan, Majok, Paniagua and White, on behalf of the people of Syracuse, I thank you for your work each and every day and for your fortitude in representing our constituents.
Syracuse is Standing Strong
Madam President and members of the Common Council, in accordance with the Charter of the City of Syracuse, it is my honor to deliver to you tonight the State of the City of Syracuse. As we begin 2021, I am pleased to report that your City is standing strong. We have faced the blows of the pandemic, and while the threat of COVID-19 is not over, we have withstood the challenge at every stage.
At this point in a traditional State of the City I would recognize the many special guests in attendance. Tonight, they are with us virtually, so I’d like to welcome these friends and partners:
State Senators May and Mannion, Assemblymembers Magnarelli, Hunter and Stirpe, County Executive McMahon, members of the County Legislature, Comptroller Masterpole, City Auditor Maroun, City Clerk Copanas, School Board President Sojewicz and Commissioners of Education, Superintendent Alicea, representatives of our federal and state government, our many other public and private partners including Chancellor Syverud, President Dewan, President LeMura, and President Crabill, and of course my amazing team at City Hall, including Deputy Mayor Owens, all of my outstanding senior staff and Department Heads, and many other city employees, thank you all for joining us this evening.
Salt City Market: the Embodiment of Our Vision
I’m speaking to you tonight from the Salt City Market in downtown Syracuse. This project – new construction at the corner of Salina and Onondaga Streets – rose up during the pandemic. It was a concrete pad and steel girders last March, and today it is the embodiment of our vision for the City of Syracuse and the community cooperation that is making that vision possible.
Later this month, a food hall and public market featuring cuisines from around the world will open here. The building will also offer 26 mixed-income apartments and a downtown grocery store. It’s a $25 million project funded by the Allyn Family Foundation, which created a new cooperative entity, the Syracuse Urban Partnership, to own and operate the market.
This investment is inspiring. So are the stories of the people working on the project. Ten small business owners selected through a competitive process hailing from places all over the world: Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and from right here in Syracuse.
People like Sleyrow Mason, a city resident fulfilling a lifelong dream through the Salt City Market.
Sley’s childhood began on the streets of Crown Heights in Brooklyn. His family moved to Syracuse when he was 17 to give Sley and his six siblings a chance at a better future. He graduated from Corcoran High School. He attended SU for two semesters, but with a newborn son and a mother needing help, he had to go work. He found a full-time job in nursing home care and discovered he loved helping people.
Sley’s true passion though, was cooking and after about ten years as a CNA, he switched to the restaurant business where he gained experience at several local restaurants. Through hard work, he made it to kitchen manager at the new Marriott Syracuse Downtown just across the street from here. It was there, that Sley learned about the Salt City Market opportunity. He competed for a spot and won.
Later this month, Sleyrow Mason will open “Soul-utions, Sley’s Southern Cuisine.” He’s serving his unique take on soul food to our community and hiring local people. For Sley, who lives on Syracuse’s east side, it puts together a lifetime of helping people with his passion for cooking. Congratulations, Sley. I wish you and all the others starting your businesses here at the Salt City Market happiness and success.
I want to thank the Allyn Family Foundation and specifically, Meg O’Connell and Maarten Jacobs, for their commitment to creating opportunity and for having steadfast confidence in the future of Syracuse.
The Burden of COVID-19
Extraordinary. Historic. Unprecedented. All terms used regularly when discussing the COVID-19 pandemic. All inadequate to describe what we’ve experienced.
More accurate are Frightening. Deadly. Life-altering. There have been over 9,300 cases of COVID-19 in the City of Syracuse. Across Onondaga County, more than 560 people have been killed by the virus.
Yet, the pandemic’s toll reaches further. Health care workers are stretched to the very limits of their capacity for caring.
School children and teachers missed weeks of classes and still juggle between in-person and online learning.
Restrictions to control the illness have put people out of their jobs and forced businesses to close.
Our neighbors suffering from addiction, mental illness and homelessness have been further destabilized.
An eviction moratorium offers some protection but many renters fear being without a place to live. Landlords, still facing all their expenses, struggle to get by without receiving rent.
And COVID-19 is placing a massive burden on your city government. The City lost tens of millions of dollars in revenue. City workers have endured lost wages. City buildings have been closed to the public for almost a year. We’ve had to change virtually every process and procedure for governing and serving.
Through it all, the employees of your city government have persisted and prevailed. They have put themselves at risk of the virus; taken on extra duties; and accommodated new work practices. I want to thank our city workers and our labor representatives who have consistently been rock-solid partners and regularly put the needs of the people they serve ahead of their own. They are the model of what public service should be.
I also want to acknowledge Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon for his strong and steady leadership throughout the pandemic, including the massive work of vaccine administration now underway. We are forever in debt to you, Dr. Gupta, and your entire team. Sincere gratitude also goes to Dr. Dewan and the brilliant and brave people at SUNY Upstate, as well as their health care colleagues at St. Joseph’s, Crouse and across our community.
Police Reform: Listening and Acting
2020, with all its health challenges, brought more pain.
In late May, a 46-year-old Minneapolis man, George Floyd, was murdered by a police officer. More than 1,000 miles away here in Syracuse and in communities across the nation and world, his horrific death triggered a reckoning with policing, race and inequality. The largest gathering I’ve ever seen outside City Hall – more than 2,000 people – rallied for reform. There were protests for 40 straight days and citizens groups have continued to pressure city government for change.
Improving police accountability and enhancing police-community relations has been a high priority since the first days of my Administration. Even before the national movement this summer, we had accomplished more on police reform than any prior administration in recent memory. But it wasn’t enough. So we leaned in to the pressure for more change.
On June 19th, I issued my first Executive Order as Mayor, laying out my Syracuse Police Reform agenda. It mandates 16 actions ranging from enacting the Right to Know law; to updating the use-of-force and body-worn camera policies; to improving the working relationship with the Citizens Review Board.
In early July, I, along with other local leaders, participated in a live streamed four hour meeting with advocates for change in policing. It was heated and pointed, often directly at me. And it was time well spent. It is only through listening that we can truly understand. And through seeing and feeling that we strengthen the motivation and urgency to act.
I am proud of our City’s response throughout this reform movement. Yes, on one night for a few hours there was violence perpetrated by a small number of bad actors. At every other stage, those fighting for change were both forceful and peaceful. I was glad to meet and march with them on several occasions. And our police department, in the midst of a pandemic, provided protection with care and respect on a daily basis as the protests continued. It was a tense and uncomfortable time – and I expect more such times because we are not done – but that’s what comes with making things better.
Every day since my Executive Order, my administration has worked to implement its actions and we have met every commitment made to this community. Updates are posted proactively and transparently on our “Reporting Progress” web portal. I want to thank Deputy Mayor Owens for tirelessly driving this process forward; Corporation Counsel Kristen Smith and her team, as well as Chief Buckner and everyone at SPD for their work. To all those who care about equity and policing, I pledge to do everything in my authority to keep positive change happening.
A Relevant Vision at the Right Time
2020 revealed ugly hatred in our nation. Championed by some in positions of great power, including our former President, we saw efforts to divide our nation by race, ethnicity, religion and political views. It was everything our country was founded to oppose.
And everything Syracuse stands against.
When I took office in 2018, my team and I established a vision: Syracuse will be a growing city that embraces diversity and creates opportunity for all. These are the values on which our City has been built, and that continue to guide us every day. This vision was right when I was elected to serve you; it is right today and it will be right tomorrow for our City and nation.
Accompanying the vision were four objectives we set to drive the resurgence of Syracuse.
Achieve fiscal sustainability;
Deliver city services effectively, efficiently and equitably;
Increase economic investment and neighborhood stability;
Provide quality constituent engagement and response;
There is real evidence these objectives are working and that we are moving closer to achieving our vision. Before the pandemic arrived in Syracuse virtually every measure of the progress we are seeking was heading in the right direction:
Crime; Vacant housing; and, Poverty all down. Population; Graduation rates; Household income; and, Job growth all up. The financial rating agencies improved our outlook. And we were projecting a $1.5 million budget surplus.
The pandemic has dealt a blow to the pace of our progress, but our momentum is still there. As we battled COVID during the past 11 months, I am proud to tell you that we still seized our window of opportunity.
Tonight, I will share highlights of the remarkable accomplishments achieved over the past three years by working together. I will focus on the last year and also look ahead to what is to come as Syracuse recovers and rises from the pandemic. Make no mistake, my friends, Syracuse is still surging and our prospects are bright.
A Stronger Financial Foundation
A City must have a strong financial foundation on which to prosper and grow. With the Common Council and other local, state and federal partners, we have taken great strides to achieve fiscal sustainability for Syracuse.
Because of the actions taken, we have the capacity to determine our own fate and, more importantly, to ensure the unique needs of the people in the city are met.
The path to better fiscal health began with the historic sales tax agreement with Onondaga County achieved in 2019 with President Hudson by my side. This deal locks in a fair and equitable formula for our City’s largest source of revenue for the next decade.
In each of the budgets enacted under my administration, we have reduced projected deficits. This is important because accurate forecasting means more effective planning and better services. In our next budget, despite the pandemic, we will again work with the Council to reduce our projected draw on reserves. This work has been noticed by the big financial rating agencies which stabilized and improved our fiscal outlook and have since maintained those better forecasts.
Last September, in the face of deep cuts in revenue due to COVID-19, I’m proud of the responsible actions we took to reduce city spending and services to ensure our fiscal integrity. Chief Administrative Officer Frank Caliva, Finance Commissioner Brad O’Connor and their teams did smart, quick work. It was the right thing to do, but it hurt our workforce and our residents and put the progress we’ve made in jeopardy.
Inexplicably, our federal government was unable to come to terms on assistance to state and local governments, so the deep cuts we made have stayed in place. The financial risk from COVID-19 to our city is still grave. Our two largest sources of revenue, sales tax and state aid, are severely reduced. Forecasting the fiscal future is like predicting the outcome of the Super Bowl. Anything can still happen. Except this year, of course, because we know it’s going to be the Bills.
However, with new leadership in the White House and in the Senate, optimism can replace skepticism that federal aid to states and cities will in fact be delivered. That aid will enable us to protect our city workers, restore services and, importantly, prevent further cuts.
To stay on the path to fiscal sustainability, we will engage the people of Syracuse in our budget process in new ways and make it easier to understand our fiscal realities. This winter and fall, we are taking a first step toward participatory budgeting by making the “Balancing Act” digital budget simulation tool available to city residents to share their input through a virtual budgeting process. We will begin the program with several departments, including Police and DPW.
We continue to take steps on many fronts to improve the efficiency of “back office” city functions. Our Administration successfully centralized the city’s financial operations, saving money and improving performance. We plan to centralize the financial and budgeting functions of the Syracuse Police Department this year so the department can focus more on what it does best: keeping people safe.
We recently completed construction on a new centralized City Payment Center. When City Hall reopens, there will be a single location to pay bills. It’s a more efficient use of city staffing and, even better for our customers; it means no more going to multiple offices and waiting in multiple lines just so you can give us your money.
Partnerships to Improve City Services
President Barack Obama once said, “Nothing in life that’s worth anything comes easy.” That’s true about the work of our second objective: delivering city services effectively, efficiently and equitably. Improving government operations requires change and, as we all know, any change can be difficult.
We need the consent of the public; we need the buy in of our workforce; and we need to partner with other levels of government. These factors and others are why things tend to stay the same in government for longer than they should.
They are also why I believe so passionately in the essential need for cooperation in government. The outcome of blind partisanship is gridlock. Partnership isn’t always easy, but it’s a better way to get where you want to go. That’s why President Obama also said, “Ordinary people, when they are working together, can do extraordinary things.”
With a focus on working together over the past three years, we’ve made significant progress on how we deliver city services.
We launched the Syracuse Financial Empowerment Center, a free city service that provides professional, 1:1 financial counseling. With local non-profit partners and the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, the program has helped about 630 people improve their personal financial stability and is one of the top performing centers in the nation. To date, our FEC has helped its clients increase savings by more than a half million dollars and reduce debt by a total of $1.2 million.
Working with the Common Council, we acquired our street light network. We converted the system to money-saving, energy efficient LED lights. The New York Power Authority made us New York’s Flagship Smart City. They took on the financing and gave us a half million dollars to pilot smart city technologies, like sensors for illegal dumping and vacant properties; ice and snow detection on roads; and free Wi-Fi around community centers. The equipment for those features is going up now and we expect pilot tests to begin in the coming weeks.
When the fiscal impact of COVID-19 hit us last summer and we were forced to reduce expenses, the people of Syracuse donated more than $100,000 in six days to the Syracuse Parks Conservancy to keep pools open in each quadrant of our city.
When COVID canceled the Christmas tree lighting last November, community partners helped our Parks Department host a spectacular online celebration that involved many of our neighborhoods; people of all cultures; and one of the most popular bands in America.
The Parks Forestry team continues working with Onondaga Earth Corp to improve our natural landscape. They cleared overgrowth and beautified large sections of the Onondaga Creekwalk and Schiller Park. A passerby said it was the “best thing that has happened to her neighborhood.” The work provides jobs for 24 people, mostly youth and young adults and, thanks to support from Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, this work will continue this year.
Our team in DPW now repaves about 15 miles of roads per year compared to the four miles completed the season before I became Mayor. That’s right: we’ve nearly quadrupled the miles of roads repaved each year.
We started a major “Dig Once” road reconstruction project on Salina and State Streets in downtown this fall. It took a lot of coordination by literally all of city government and huge sacrifices by local businesses and residents. But it will make tomorrow better for all of us. This construction season, we’ll complete the project by milling and paving nearly four miles in the center of our city, including a large section of our “Main Street.” I want to thank DPW Commissioner Jeremy Robinson, Water Commissioner Joe Awald, and City Engineer Mary Robison for their work on these and other projects.
Working with the Common Council, we put ten new snow plows on the roads this winter, a long overdue upgrade to our fleet. We were so excited about it we actually named them! Under Chief Operating Officer Corey Driscoll Dunham, we brought in a professional fleet manager and with Council support, we are now adding six brand new sanitation trucks and making other improvements to our vehicles and equipment.
With the partnership of Superintendent Alicea, President Hudson, and the other members of the Joint Schools Construction Board, we are transforming city school facilities. The $300 million phase II project should be substantially completed by fall of 2022 with school reconstruction projects in every part of the City. To date, we have transformed Frazer and Bellevue Elementary Schools, Ed Smith and Huntington K-8 schools; and Blodgett, and Grant middle schools. We should complete Clary, ELMS and Danforth middle schools; and Corcoran and Fowler high schools, which includes that amazing and long overdue athletic field and track, later this year. Nottingham and Henninger high schools will be completed in 2022.
Just last week, we learned the Syracuse School District graduation rates continue to rise. At 70.7%, the rate is up six percent over last year and is the highest it’s reached under the current state reporting system. I commend our students and their families, our teachers and staff, Superintendent Alicea and his team, President Sojewicz and the School Board, and Council Education Committee Chair Rita Paniagua.
The City Engineering Department helped drive much of the work at our schools. And Engineering, working with federal, state and local partners, has completed an incredible range of infrastructure projects including: the West Onondaga Street Bridge; University Avenue reconstruction; Southside Creekwalk extension; Sidewalk expansion and road reconstruction on Hiawatha Boulevard; as well as sewer lining in the Meadowbrook area.
With continued partnership, more major projects are coming in the next two years: reconstruction of West Genesee Street from downtown to the city line and East Colvin Street on the south side; more Dig Once projects on Beech Street and Butternut Street; as well as, pedestrian safety improvements at intersections across the city. We still have work to do on our City’s infrastructure, but we are making greater progress than ever before.
Nowhere is cooperation more important than in the area of public safety. Our partnership and progress in this critical city service is outstanding and improving every day.
Throughout the pandemic, the Syracuse Fire Department has played a pivotal role in the City’s response to the virus. Most recently, SFD has administered COVID testing to city school students and essential city workers. What most don’t know is that from the earliest days, their emergency management expertise, along with the police department, guided all of city government in its effective response to the pandemic.
When you’re good, it impacts everything you do. And our Fire Department, under the leadership of Chief Mike Monds, is really good.
Last year, they refurbished three fire engines, completely rebuilding them and installing environmentally friendly diesel engines. That work saved our city $600,000.
They secured more than a half million dollars in federal grants to put safe exhaust removal systems in all of our stations. They conducted 38,000 hours of training last year. And their average response time was three minutes and 31 seconds, the best in Onondaga County and better than all national standards.
This month, because of smart fiscal and operational planning, the Department started a training class for 28 new firefighters to keep the force at safe numbers. And with people of color making up 43% of this year’s academy, it is our most diverse class ever.
Chief Monds is looking even further down the road to ensure our young people have a chance at careers in the fire department. Tonight, I am pleased to announce the expansion of PSLA at Fowler’s Fire Rescue Pathways program thanks to the partnership of the SFD, the Syracuse School District and Onondaga Community College. Too often, our young people lose interest in learning during their middle school years. With the Pathways program, students can select the CTE Fire Rescue program in the 8th grade. They will have the opportunity to get EMS and Drone training with SFD professionals and to attend college credit bearing classes at OCC as high school juniors and seniors. This example of “opportunity for all” will make sure students are career and college ready.
The Syracuse Police Department is focused on career paths for our City’s young people, too. This year, the Department will launch a Syracuse Police Junior Cadet program designed to connect recent high school graduates and other city residents with on-the-job training. The curriculum has been developed by SPD’s internal instructors in partnership with the school district.
OCC, which now houses SPD’s academy, will also be involved, and CNY Works will provide financial and logistics support. Participants in the program will get good jobs, and graduates will be well-prepared to apply for a spot at the police academy.
I couldn’t be more excited about the potential of these programs, which I believe will change lives for young people in our City.
History will look back on 2020 as one of the most challenging and consequential to policing and to our Syracuse Police Department. I am grateful to Chief Buckner and the entire department for their fortitude. The pandemic put our officers’ lives at risk and was the number one cause of death among law enforcement professionals across the country.
Overall crime was down 7% last year and it is down 6% since I took office. But as in cities across New York State and the nation, Syracuse saw an increase in violent crime. Tragically, homicides claimed 31 lives last year. The Department is working every day to bring those responsible to justice.
Syracuse Police were shot at more times in 2020 than any time in recent memory. Incidents of citizens resisting arrest went up 7%. With a new Use of Force Policy in place, however, use of force by officers went down by 12%. Injuries to both officers and citizens in association with use of force were down by more than 30%.
Through all that, the department introduced major operating improvements. It expanded Downtown Syracuse Walking Beats and began new Citizen Advisory Committees to improve communications and policing practices. SPD launched TeleServe and E-Serve programs to make it easier for people to report non-emergency incidents and get help from the police, and it hired its first ever director of community engagement. Every uniform officer now has a body camera, and new overtime tracking and budgeting systems will go live in a few weeks. The Department completed major gang and drug investigations affecting neighborhoods in each patrol district.
The hiring of three new police classes in 2018 and 2019 has helped the department deal with an increase in retirements during the past several years. Retirements continue, so the Department will proceed with another new class in 2021.
SPD installed nearly 100 new cameras in neighborhoods bringing our total citywide to over 500.
In September, the new Gun Violence Suppression Detail hit the streets focusing on violent hot spots and the city’s most dangerous criminals. In just the last quarter of the year, the new detail recovered 19 illegal guns and made 35 gun arrests. And our increased emphasis on Crisis Intervention Training paid off during several instances where officers defused situations with mentally and emotionally challenged individuals.
One of those moments happened on September 2nd when a 54 year old man called his counselor from the roof of an abandoned building on the north side. Officers Joe Tolone, Mitchell Anthony and James Pastorello responded. Officer Tolone was able to reach the distressed man by phone. With the skills gained in crisis intervention training earlier in the year, he talked, listened and built trust. When the time was right, Officers Anthony and Pastorello used a bucket truck to get to the roof and bring the man to safety.
Only four months earlier, Officers Tolone and Pastorello used those same crisis skills to save a young woman who was threatening to jump off an 81 overpass. While firefighters moved in to rescue her from below, the officers had to hold her through a chain link fence as her feet dangled off the bridge.
These are examples of the unsung heroic acts police officers do every day. We continue to ensure officers are well prepared to meet the needs of the community and to help people. I thank all our officers and the entire department for its work during this trying year.
Looking forward, I continue to want more police officers to live in our City. I was disappointed the police contract my administration negotiated with the police union, which included a residency provision, was not approved by the Council. While I am hoping we may still be able to achieve it through the arbitration process, I’m not going to stop there. So in addition, working with our state delegation, particularly Assemblymember Hunter and Senator May, as well as members of the Common Council, new state legislation has been drafted that would require city residency for all new officers. I look forward to working with our state partners to get it passed.
Improving our Economy and Our Neighborhoods
Public safety is an important contributor to better neighborhoods. There are, however, other factors. So our third objective to achieve our vision is increasing economic investment and neighborhood stability.
Improving our economy and our neighborhoods is what drew me to public service. It drives me as your mayor because good jobs and quality housing mean thriving communities. And, we have made outstanding progress on this front, even during the pandemic.
Instead of waiting for help when COVID-19 hit last spring, we sprang in to action. Within days of New York going on PAUSE, the Syracuse Economic Development Corporation began distributing loans and grants to city small businesses. The Syracuse Industrial Development Agency followed with its own grant program. In all, city businesses have received about $1.3 million dollars in pandemic relief from your city government.
We also made major modifications to city policies and procedures to allow outdoor dining in the public right-of-way. Our opening of Walton Street in Armory Square drew people to Syracuse and helped lift our whole city. We changed the sidewalk and parking rules for outdoor dining and curbside pickup to help city businesses compete and keep people working.
As we fought the pandemic over the past year, in partnership with the state and county, I am proud to report that your city government kept pushing forward for our economy and our neighborhoods.
When I took office, Syracuse was known for aging infrastructure and looming bankruptcy. We’re now on firm financial footing despite a global crisis and we’re attracting attention and investment from some of the world’s most respected companies.
That attraction is being fueled by two things: the way in which we are working together as a community and, just as important, our strategy that puts opportunity for all as our highest priority.
The Syracuse Surge is our strategy for inclusive growth in the New Economy. It’s a transformational approach that creates opportunity for all – to ensure new economic growth is good for people who have historically been left behind.
Just a few blocks south of here, construction is well underway on the new JMA Wireless tech manufacturing facility at the old Coyne Textile Plant. So is work with JMA on a hiring program for people in the City who need good jobs.
At the heart of the new Southside Campus for the New Economy, Governor Cuomo committed more than $70 million dollars to convert the old Central Tech High School into a regional science technology engineering arts and math school. We pushed this project forward, so our kids will have access to superior STEAM education in a state of the art downtown school. We are on track for work to begin on the project this year.
JP Morgan Chase with our partners at CenterState CEO have pressed forward with the $3 million Advancing Cities grant. The global bank picked Syracuse because our plan focuses first on creating opportunity for those who’ve been left behind by the tech revolution. 32 Syracuse tech companies have joined the effort committing to diversifying their workforces, with no incentive other than doing the right thing. Community partners in education, workforce and manufacturing – like CNY Works, OCC, SUNY EOC and MACNY – have also joined to offer training programs so city people are ready for these opportunities.
With help from the Advancing Cities program, Le Moyne College has hired a director for Erie 21, their program designed to improve math and computational skills for city school children. Thanks to the passion and energy of Le Moyne President Linda LeMura, more than 750 city school students a year benefit from Erie 21 and other Le Moyne programs for SCSD students.
Syracuse University opened the door for us to Microsoft. The giant tech company went ahead with its Syracuse Surge summit during the pandemic and is proceeding with its programs and investments here.
Verizon Wireless made Syracuse the very first Upstate city to get 5G wireless because of our inclusive strategy. In building out the network during the pandemic, they started with underserved neighborhoods on the south and north sides. And we just signed a similar agreement with AT&T to do more.
We’re ensuring the Smart City sensors going in to improve services to residents are deployed equitably and addressing barriers to opportunity like internet connectivity.
At the Center City Innovation Hub, The Tech Garden is proceeding with a $12 million expansion of its downtown headquarters, and is also developing a tech incubator program for black and brown entrepreneurs in the City. And just across the street, TCG Player is creating more than 100 new full-time, accessible, tech-related jobs.
With all the investment happening here, it’s no surprise ten small businesses and a grocery store are opening at the Salt City Market.
By working together and focusing on opportunity for all, the Syracuse Surge is delivering on our objective to increase economic investment from the private and public sector.
We’re also using equity and inclusive opportunity to drive our preparation for the Interstate 81 Viaduct project. Earlier this month, the City and Blueprint 15 received a $1 million grant from Enterprise Community Partners and the New York Attorney General’s Office to prevent neighborhood and housing displacement when the viaduct is removed. The funds will be used for eviction prevention, community engagement, and capacity building for affordable housing. I am passionate about the transformational potential of the Community Grid. I’m equally determined to be sure that those who live in the shadow of the viaduct will benefit from any future investments.
Since becoming Mayor, with the help of many community stakeholders, we’ve also made major strides in preparing for the jobs the I-81 project will bring. Syracuse Build, which is creating a career pipeline for city residents in the construction industry, has assembled a never-before seen collaboration of big institutions, business, labor, community advocates and workforce development providers.
Last summer, working with the Urban Jobs Task Force, I hosted the Interstate 81 Jobs Big Table, an effort to make sure that local hiring comes from the project. COVID 19 did not stop our work. We had 80 partners, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, representatives of Senator Schumer and Governor Cuomo, the State Departments of Transportation and Labor, the Federal Highway Administration and organized labor – all sitting at the same virtual table to develop strategies. Seven action teams are now working on programs to be shared with the Big Table again in April.
With the support of Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Schumer and the new Biden-Harris administration, we can make this $2 billion dollar opportunity the biggest public works project in the history of Syracuse. The Governor’s plan to break ground in 2022 is welcome news. I will do everything I can to be sure it benefits local people.
Access to reliable and affordable transportation is a barrier that keeps people from getting jobs. That’s why I believe so strongly that we need a Bus Rapid Transit system in the City of Syracuse. BRT systems improve the frequency and reliability of public transportation at a lower cost than light rail. It will require state and federal help, so I’ve made BRT one of my top funding priorities this year. Comprehensive transportation planning for the 81 project gives us the ability to make it happen.
We also made important progress on neighborhood stability in 2020.
The Neighborhood and Business Development Department, guided by Commissioner Michael Collins, advanced the Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative, a comprehensive program engaging neighbors in the revitalization of targeted neighborhoods and their surrounding business corridors. It involves building 200 units of new one and two-family housing in strategic neighborhood locations throughout the city. Despite dried up public funds due to COVID-19, NBD secured $1 million this fall from the New York Affordable Housing Corporation to support the construction of 31 new single family homes. Work on the first of those is already underway.
With the help of the New York Attorney General’s Cities Rise program, we hired four Community Ambassadors to do outreach with residents experiencing housing challenges. We launched a Code Crack Down on the near North side, issuing about 230 violations in six weeks. More than two thirds of those problems have already been resolved. New Code Enforcement Director Jake Dishaw is having this kind of impact throughout the city.
We achieved a major state policy victory allowing us to seize brownfield properties without taking on the associated liability. In partnership with the Greater Syracuse Land Bank, we are now in the process of taking control of 14 vacant commercial brownfield properties in those corridors so they can be redeveloped.
At the former Syracuse Developmental Center, which we seized for back taxes in August 2019, we are actively seeking a new use for this prime 48 acre site adjacent to Tipperary Hill. There’s been great interest and progress and we are moving even closer to bringing that property back to life.
As promised in last year’s State of the City, and thanks to the drive of Councilor Joe Driscoll and the advocacy of President Hudson, we enacted a new lead ordinance in Syracuse. In neighborhoods prone to lead poisoning, where many of our most vulnerable reside, our code inspectors will have easier access for lead inspections. Where needed, we will ensure lead conditions are abated and our children are kept safe. The lead program is still advancing despite COVID-19.
Now more than ever many of our neighbors, having lost access to support services due to the pandemic, are struggling with addiction, physical and mental health problems and homelessness. It is truly heartbreaking.
Our team at NBD has worked with our partners at the County and local non-profits to increase outreach and assistance to those in need. We are fortunate to have organizations like In My Father’s Kitchen, the Rescue Mission, Catholic Charities, Liberty Resources, and others to assist.
To further this work, with the approval of the Common Council earlier this month, my administration directed a quarter million dollars of CARES Act Community Development Block Grant funding to increase street outreach for those experiencing mental health crisis. This critical support, combined with $3.4M of CARES Act funds for direct financial assistance to address housing stability and homelessness, will put a foundation back under our most vulnerable neighbors.
Many spectacular neighborhood projects were finished in 2020: the renovation of Salina Plaza next to Perseverance Park downtown; the completion of the south side Onondaga Creekwalk Extension; the new Lake Lounge at the northern terminus of the Creekwalk at the mouth of Onondaga Lake; and the Empire State Trail along Erie Boulevard.
After years of inaction before I became Mayor, my administration is addressing the over population of deer in the City, a serious public health and safety problem. Working with a citizen advisory committee, we began deer management in Syracuse last winter. With the continued support of the County, we are resuming the program later this month, despite the pandemic.
Just before COVID-19 hit, we brought outdoor skating back to Hiawatha Lake at Upper Onondaga Park with the first-ever Syracuse Pond Hockey Classic. They plan to drop the puck again next winter after COVID-19 subsides. My thanks to tournament organizer, Tim O’Donnell, and of course our Parks Commissioner Julie LaFave and her team at Parks for their consistent “can do” approach.
And more good news on skating. Tonight I’m pleased to announce we received the okay from the state to expand our daily capacity at Clinton Square from 45 to 216 people per day.
To improve neighborhood quality of life, I appointed a new inspector to focus solely on illegal setouts in the city. That’s when people don’t follow the rules for setting out trash and debris for pick up. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves as a city resident and I’m determined to fix the problem.
I’ve also enlisted the help of our Innovation Team in the Office of Accountability Performance and Innovation. They have selected quality of life as their priority area this year, and they are engaging city residents in how to make sure every single neighborhood is getting better. We welcomed Chief Data and Innovation Officer Nico Diaz Amigo to the City last year to lead the API team.
After many years of work, in 2021 we will finally advance Rezone, a comprehensive update of the city’s zoning ordinance, to the Common Council. It’s the first extensive zoning update in decades and will help drive growth and protect neighborhoods long into the future.
Before leaving neighborhoods, I want to update you on sidewalks. I’ve made it clear that I want to see a citywide municipal sidewalk maintenance program and so has a majority of the Common Council. My team, under new Budget Director Tim Rudd, has developed a proposal to implement a sidewalk program that would make the city more walkable for everyone. My administration will present the proposal to the Council and the public in the coming weeks. Given the financial pain inflicted by COVID-19, however, the Council, the Administration and our constituents need to consider timing of implementation in the context of the pandemic. Make no mistake, though, a municipal sidewalk program is in our near future.
Fortunately, my administration has been working on innovative sidewalk solutions since we entered City Hall. We started a sidewalk snow removal program on highly used sidewalks two years ago and expanded it last year. Due to the fiscal impact of COVID-19, we had to put sidewalk snow removal on hold, but it will be back. Since I took office, we’ve also replaced about 8.5 miles of sidewalks and pedestrian corners throughout the City.
New Syrgov.net and Better CityLine
I also have significant progress to report on multiple fronts on our fourth objective, providing quality constituent engagement and response.
The City website I inherited when I became mayor is woefully inadequate. It’s kind of like your junk drawer: there’s a lot in there you need, but you can never find what you are looking for. Syrgov.net was actually built more than a decade ago and has never been upgraded. That’s because it’s another big, complex job. But we’re doing it. And tonight, I’m proud to unveil for the first time what your new city website will look like. It’s easier to navigate, better organized, more accessible and appealing to the eye, and will offer more options to do business with the City of Syracuse. Look for the new version of the site to rollout later this year.
Many residents also rely on CityLine to make requests for services, either by phone or online. CityLine is a great idea: a central place to go to for information and to report service requests. The service and reliability of response, however, could be better. And it will be. This winter, we are relocating the CityLine staff from DPW to a central customer service center at City Hall. This year we will implement the popular and proven See Click Fix app so our residents have a best in class system. I want to thank the CityLine team for embracing change and for sharing our commitment to first class customer service.
Before closing tonight, I want to address the needs of a proud but too often over looked population in Syracuse: our veterans. It’s estimated that our local community has more than 42,000 veterans and veteran family members. Our community, through the work of our veteran agencies, a strong VA organization and Syracuse University, has a rich history of service to veterans. But our veterans need and deserve more help and support.
Many are struggling greatly due to the pandemic and are frequently challenged by navigating the complex network of support systems available to them. With Syracuse University’s help, we’re going to do something about that.
In 2015, SU’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families or IVMF launched a program called AmericaServes – a community-based care coordination initiative designed to help veterans and their families effectively navigate and access vocational and social services in the communities they call home. Today, AmericaServes is the gold-standard for how public, private, and non-profit organizations work together to serve veterans, service members, and their families in cities like Dallas, Seattle, Raleigh, Pittsburg, and New York City.
Tonight, I am honored to tell you that Syracuse University and the IVMF have accepted my request to launch and fund the creation of SyracuseServes; a community-based collaborative and care-coordination center housed at the new National Veterans Resource Center. Working alongside the City and in collaboration with Onondaga County, local non-profit leaders and veteran-service organizations, SyracuseServes will ensure that veterans and family members living in the City of Syracuse can navigate and access the supportive services and resources available to them in our community.
It’s an important job, but with the expertise and experience of SU and the IVMF, we can make things better for our community’s veterans. Thank you, Chancellor Syverud, SU and the IVMF for, once again, answering the call for Syracuse and the nation.
Tonight, you have heard the evidence of a city that is rising; one that is showing fortitude in the face of challenges that might previously have seemed insurmountable. At the core of this success is cooperation. I cannot imagine that a community fighting among itself could effectively respond to the challenges of the past year.
Make no mistake, there are still too many in our community that are struggling, and there are many challenges still ahead of us. Yet, as we have so clearly seen tonight, we are on the right track.
The City’s fiscal health has improved. We are attracting economic investment and making our neighborhoods more stable. We’re delivering services more efficiently, effectively and equitably, and engaging residents in their city. In many ways we already are a growing city that embraces diversity and creates opportunity for all. This remarkable Salt City Market is just one example.
No Limits: Inspiration at PSLA
So is the story of Yohan Trteizio (Tar-TEE-zee-oh) and Belal (BUH-lal) Hamad, two seniors at the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler High School. These 17 year olds from New American families are reaching amazing heights. Yohan, from the north side, and Belal, from Eastwood, were both attracted to PSLA’s outstanding Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems CTE program.
During the past three and a half years, these smart and driven young men have applied themselves in and out of the classroom. And late last year, despite the disruption of the pandemic, Yohan and Belal each officially passed the Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 exam to earn their remote pilot certifications. With drone licenses, they have great job prospects already and both are applying to top colleges to study engineering. Yohan’s interest is mechanical or aerospace engineering and Belal has his sights set on becoming an astronaut. As their PSLA instructor says with a smile, the sky is, quite literally, the limit for these Syracuse school students.
Thank you, Yohan and Belal, for inspiring us and for representing Syracuse so well in the world. You give me reason for optimism and further support for my unshakable faith that Syracuse’s best days are within our reach.
To my fellow city residents, I am proud of what we have accomplished and look forward to the work ahead. Thank you, and have a good night.