Near Westside Initiative faces uncertain future, partners continue green revitalization
Near Westside Initiative's uncertain future
When the Near Westside Initiative was founded in 2006, Syracuse University played a large role financially and administratively. Now, SU is pulling its support from the cooperative revitalization effort and taking its funding with it. This could limit future residential rehabilitation and revitalization plans that can be done in the Westside neighborhood.
Home HeadQuarters Inc. and the Syracuse Center of Excellence plan to continue the work set out by the Near Westside Initiative to better the neighborhood and make it more sustainable with or without the nonprofit.
Sheena Solomon, acting as the volunteer leader of the initiative since its board chairman left in December, said that their work is not yet over.
“The organization is just in transition,” she said in response to concerns that work on the Near Westside was stalled or completely stopped. “It’s hard to do projects when you’re in transition.”
Home HeadQuarters has two new projects on the horizon, according to Crystal Cosentino, chief compliance and operations officer. The nonprofit is a community housing development organization that has partnered with the Near Westside Initiative to revamp old homes in the past.
The first project is at 1022 W. Fayette St. and will house a restaurant and three apartments. The second project, which will begin construction shortly, is roughly a $3.7 million development on the corner of Ontario and Otisco streets called Resilient Corners. It will include eight single-family homes, a renovated mixed-use building and a community laundromat, said Cosentino.
These projects will contribute to several goals of the Central New York Regional Sustainability Plan. Environmental goals have been central to the Near Westside Initiative’s plan since its inception. The Center of Excellence, which works to spur innovation in energy and environmental systems, was a founding member of the collaborative.
“We used those funds to encourage the development of green buildings on the Near Westside,” he said. “We came up with an overall evaluation of the neighborhood using LEED for the neighborhood development then identified the areas that the system identified as weaknesses. And we used our resources to address those.”
LEED ratings for neighborhood development range from Certified, at the low end, to Silver, Gold, and Platinum as the highest possible rating. Bogucz said that evaluations found that the neighborhood did not qualify for a LEED rating due to its low scores in sustainability and connectedness as a community. He said that under the plan the Center, devised in conjunction with the Near Westside Initiative, the neighborhood could be rated Gold.
The Resilient Corners project is part of that plan. While the Center of Excellence has not had a hand in its construction, they were “intimately involved” in helping Home HeadQuarters conceive the project and apply for funding, according to Bogucz.
“That project is a great example of a project that was envisioned as part of the LEED for neighborhood development plan,” he said.
While partners of the Near Westside continue their push to make the city greener and more sustainable, the Initiative’s first residential developments are nearing seven years of occupancy. John and Kathryn, who prefers Kathy, Miranda bought the Live Work Home in December 2010. The house was one of three winners of the “From the Ground Up” competition at SU’s School of Architecture and is rated LEED Platinum. It also won the American Institute of Architects One and Two Family Custom Residences award in 2012.
Due to subsidies, the Mirandas were able to purchase the home for $80,000. They invested another $40,000 “to make it more beautiful for ourselves,” said Kathy Miranda. To get that deal the Mirandas had to stay in the home for at least three years. They are now going on seven.
“The house is brilliantly constructed,” John Miranda said, who had been interested in energy efficiency and new technology for many years prior to purchasing his home. “Aside from a few hiccups here and there, the house was really made according to plan.”
The couple has continued to add green technology to their home such as solar panels and radiant floor heating to keep their house as energy efficient as possible. John said he hopes that Home Headquarters and any other partners involved in future residential work will speak with them when planning new residential projects for suggestions.
Aside from that, the Mirandas agreed that more houses like theirs in the neighborhood would be a good thing.
“I think that would be awesome,” Kathy said. “I think that was part of the architect’s plan, to make this property a prototype that could be repeated with some variation.”
Bogucz said the Center for Excellence is always on the lookout for funding to do more projects on the Near Westside. If the university has pulled funding indefinitely, that may be harder to find.
A university spokesperson issued a statement on behalf of SU’s Vice President for Community Engagement Bea Gonzalez, who said that SU’s work on the Near Westside is not over; citing several examples such as the school renting space for the La Casita Cultural Center.
Solomon said that members of the Near Westside Initiative are currently in talks to determine if and when the organization will again be at full capacity and operating on its own.
“The whole point from the beginning was for the initiative to run on its own eventually,” she said.
Bogucz, who has been a part of the initiative with the Center of Excellence since the beginning, is thankful for SU’s help up to this year.
“That was a great kickstart that launched the initiative,” he said of the initial $13.8 million funding from the university. “Now the initiative is in a mode to find sources of funding to continue working. It’s a wonderful neighborhood and there are terrific community partners involved that will continue the work.”