First glance at the buildings in the path of a new I-81

Aug 6, 2014
Originally published on August 6, 2014 6:55 am

Rebuilding Interstate 81 through downtown Syracuse will mean impact to properties along it. Now a group opposed to that has outlined what impact a new, wider elevated highway could have on the cityscape.

The state transportation department says as many as 40 buildings in Syracuse could have to come down to make way for a wider highway cutting through downtown, since a new viaduct would have to be up to 30 feet wider to meet regulations for modern roadways.

The state says it’s too early to identify specific buildings that would be torn down, but with some downtown landmarks mere feet from the current highway, it’s not hard to point some out.

A group of developers and downtown business owners that would rather see the other option, a street-level boulevard, replace the aging highway, has come out with a list of properties they say will be bulldozed by a new viaduct.

Andrew Schuster, an architect and member of Rethink 81, says replacing buildings with a highway will have a negative economic impact on downtown.

"We really think that there’s a significant negative property value impact to the city of Syracuse if you replace 81 with an elevated viaduct in any scenario," he said.

Rethink 81’s demolition list includes Smith Restaurant Supply and Webster’s Landing, home of VIP Structures. And also chunks of the old Little Italy neighborhood on North Salina Street.

The Snowden Building and St. John the Evangelist Church could also be razed.

They put the tax base loss at a million and a half dollars, if you include buildings that would still be standing, but will lose value because I-81 is now in their backyard.

"You’re going to dramatically going to affect the cityscape and you’re going to take down buildings and you’re going to render unbuildable because you’re going to butt up against this highway," said developer Bob Doucette.

Merika Treier of the Downtown Committee says putting a boulevard through the city instead would free up property for more development.

"There is huge opportunity to generate more revenue for this community, activate more downtown real estate by creating a roadway systems that is conducive to the types of mixed-use urban developments that we’ve seen so successfully transform our downtown district," she said.

Rethink 81 admits the list isn’t final and that they went off preliminary DOT drawings, but they say it should help paint a picture of a new viaduct’s impact.

Proponents of maintaining I-81’s current path say it will continue to quickly move people into downtown and to businesses located near interstate exits.

The DOT is considering a few different variations of a new viaduct that could reduce property impacts by up to 40 percent.

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