Monday, October 20, 2008

Where it all started...Where it all begins again...

It is mid morning in Utica as I drive down Main Street past Union Station and the Children's Museum. I park my car in front of the wrought iron fence and gate that leads to Baggs Tavern.
There is absolutely no one around as I enter the grassy area in front of the tavern, there is no traffic either, because the road dead ends on the the other side of Genesee street which ramps over Main street and blocks from view this important historical site. As the cars overhead roar on the ramp above, I reflect on how cities like Utica and towns like New Hartford decided to erase the past through urban renewal programs in the 50's, 60's and 70's. Or in the case of Baggs Tavern, stick it and historic Union station on some backward forgotten road. A road that used to be Main Street. A busy Main Street that was the lifleblood of the city until a bridge was "gashed" over it, and numerous historic buildings and neighborhoods were destroyed in the process.
In 1798 "old Fort Schuyler" was incorporated as the village of Utica after Erastus Clark wrote the name "Utica" an ancient Carthaginian port on a piece of paper in a name selection process for the village. The village of Utica had roughly 50 homes then and would soon grow dramatically when the Erie Canal was started in 1817 and Utica became a port city to the development of the west.
This area I am standing in now was a hub and central point for well over a 150 years until the bridge was built.
In any proposal to try and bring back life to the Mohawk Valley, the place where it all started, should be part of any redevelopment. This area is rich in heritage and history, and residents, visitors and newcomers to the area, need to have access to learn about it. The effort to restore Rutger street is an example of the right kind of renewal this area needs to do to. Addressing this gash across Utica is an even more important one to address before more Mohawk Valley history and culture deteriorates even more, and important buildings are demolished. This area in a successful rebuilding of Utica, will be an important tie in with Harbor Point and downtown Utica.
Much thought needs to go into how to go about it including possible taking down the bridge/ramp and making Genesee Street level right into North Utica.
As I get in my car, I drive past Jeffrey Hardware. It is closed now, and becomes one more liability and hurdle for the City of Utica to overcome. Route 5S has a steady stream of traffic as I head back towards the turn-off for New Hartford. As I head up the arterial towards New Hartford, I think to myself that this area really has a lot to work with, it just needs a little common sense and planning, and maybe then people can get excited again about the area, and get behind efforts to intiate the change. Then politicians will have no choice but to come along for the ride or get off.

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