State of the City 2023 Speech Transcript

Published on January 26, 2023

Hon. Ben Walsh | Mayor, City of Syracuse
Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023 | 5:30 p.m.
Corcoran High School

“Next Level Growth”


President Hudson, President Pro Tempore Greene, At Large Councilors Caldwell, Gethers and Paniagua, and District Councilors Allen, Hogan, Majok, Monto and Schultz, in accordance with the Charter of the City of Syracuse, it is my honor to deliver to you, as well as Auditor Maroun and Clerk McBride, the State of the City of Syracuse as we begin 2023. I am proud to report that the state of our city is strong. Our success as a community has been great, but the progress we must still make is even greater.

Tonight, I will introduce a call to action for the times we face – to take our recent growth to the Next Level. And I will present five priorities to help get us there.

In preparation for tonight’s address, Deputy Mayor Owens and I spent a morning with juniors and seniors at Corcoran High School and more time with members of the Superintendent’s Student Cabinet, which includes representatives of all our city high schools. As we embark on a period of growth not seen in most of our lifetimes, we wanted to hear what our young people think. After all, it’s their city, too.

What we saw and what we heard gave me reason for hope. These diverse and brilliant young people – some of whom are here with us tonight – are fully engaged in and aware of what is happening in our community. They asked about careers – from jobs in manufacturing to holding public office. They expressed informed concern about people suffering from mental health issues and homelessness and wanted details about what we are doing to help them. They asked about illegal drug sales happening right in their own neighborhoods and said that, at times, they worry about their safety. They noticed our roads are getting better – but still aren’t good enough.

The Next Level Growth opportunities I will address in this State of the City are a reflection of the issues your city high school students said are most important. They challenged and inspired us to do everything we can to make sure Syracuse is a place they want to be.

Vision: Syracuse will be a growing city that embraces diversity and creates opportunity for all

When I became Mayor, we set a vision for Syracuse to be a growing city that embraces diversity and creates opportunity for all. At a time when most people saw a city mired in mediocrity with a government teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, driving a stake in the ground that we would generate growth and opportunity was an audacious aspiration.

Councilors, working together we have quickly turned that aspiration into our new normal and can now foresee growth at a scale Syracuse hasn’t experienced since the first half of the 20th century. At every stage, we stayed true to our vision of opportunity for all and have seen strong results.

Syracuse Surge

The Syracuse Surge, our strategy for inclusive growth in the new economy, is exceeding expectations. It put Syracuse on the map globally for technology investment and helped position our region for transformational growth.

Through Syracuse Surge’s training programs we have helped more than a thousand city residents – the vast majority of them women, people of color and veterans, prepare for careers in technology.

Enticed by the Syracuse Surge, JMA Wireless opened the only 5G wireless equipment manufacturing plant in America on Syracuse’s southside. 20% of their workforce already comes from surrounding City neighborhoods and as they prepare to expand again, we look forward to working with JMA to put many more city residents to work there.

Syracuse Surge and the progress happening in the city also factored into Micron’s decision to invest $100 billion dollars just north of here in the Town of Clay. I am deeply grateful to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, Governor Kathy Hochul and County Executive McMahon for their federal, state and local cooperation to bring this historic investment here.

Syracuse Build

As we grow, Syracuse Build is fulfilling our commitment to opportunity for all. We created this construction training program to ensure that city residents have an opportunity to work on the I-81 project and other major investments in the pipeline. The results are impressive: more than 60 city residents have already completed our Pathways to Apprenticeship program, and are now enrolled in apprenticeships that will lead to good paying careers in the construction trades. That’s not just changing dozens of lives – it’s impacting hundreds of loved ones and family members – today and for generations to come.

This would not be happening without collaboration -- especially with Council President Helen Hudson, our brothers and sisters in labor, our partners at CenterState CEO and our Syracuse Build team, led by Chris Montgomery.

Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative

Economic opportunity is incomplete without safe, quality, affordable places to live. Our signature neighborhood revitalization program, the Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative, has given Syracuse a big head start in being prepared for the growth coming to our region.

American Rescue Plan Act

We have accelerated progress toward our vision in the past three years despite the COVID-19 pandemic which has and is continuing to impact people’s lives on a daily basis. Thanks to the leadership of President Biden and our federal delegation, the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, is a major reason why. With the Council’s partnership, Syracuse is leading the nation in deploying ARPA funding to help people recover from the pandemic.

With Syracuse Surge, Syracuse Build, the Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative, and our effective stewardship of ARPA Relief, Syracuse is in a stronger place.

We can be proud of the progress we are making. But not without acknowledging that we have not accomplished enough.

Poverty, which is slowly declining, is still shamefully too high. According to the U.S. Census, more than 37,600 people in Syracuse live below the federal poverty line.

Thousands of city residents are fully disconnected from jobs and opportunity.

We have a shortage of safe, affordable housing affecting seniors, children, and families every single day.

Access to reliable transportation is inadequate.

And too much crime prevents the sense of safety every person in this city deserves.

Next Level Growth

These conditions are not unique to Syracuse. At varying levels, they exist in every single municipality in the region, so we have a shared interest in overcoming them. With the largest economic investment in the history of the United States coming to Onondaga County, we finally can. Only, though, if we learn from the past.

Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation, on whose ancestral lands we stand tonight, has said “With every decision we make, we always keep in mind the Seventh Generation to come. It’s our job to see that the people coming ahead, the generations still unborn, have a world no worse than ours and hopefully better.” We are honored to have Oren with us tonight, and he is joined by Tadodaho Sid Hill, and Betty Lyons of the American Indian Law Alliance.

As Syracuse and Central New York prepare for growth at the next level, the wisdom of the Haudenosaunee must guide us.

Regrettably, that’s not what has happened in recent history. From 1980 to 2010, the City of Syracuse’s population declined by nearly 25,000 people, while the surrounding towns added about 28,000 new residents, resulting in a stagnant County population over 30 years. Yet, over that same period of time the amount of urbanized land in Onondaga County doubled. We have been a posterchild for sprawl without growth, which is inherently unsustainable and the antithesis of the Haudenosaunee’s seventh generation principle. We can’t to continue to consume precious land and resources – and we don’t need to. In the city alone, our infrastructure was built for roughly 100,000 more people than we have today, and our villages and town centers are similarly positioned to accommodate new growth.

As we grow to the next level, we must avoid repeating history by also ensuring that our most marginalized communities benefit from new investment. We can and must achieve growth that is inclusive, intentionally creating opportunity for women, people of color, veterans, the LGBTQ+ community and others historically left behind.

The decisions we make in the next few years will have impact long into this century. Tonight, I will highlight progress and announce initiatives and programs in five Next Level Growth priorities: preparing our youth; making thriving neighborhoods; creating accessible, safe streets; investing in infrastructure readiness and resiliency; and ensuring a smart, sustainable government.


Next Level Growth: Preparing our Youth

At a time when our children are facing so many trials and tribulations, we must rise to the challenge. We need to lift our young people up and equip them with the knowledge and resources they need for the future. That is why preparing our youth is our first, Next Level Growth priority. We have no greater duty.

I am grateful to the teachers, staff and administration of the Syracuse City School District for your dedication to our children. I also salute the parents who actively support our schools. I know our School Board members and Superintendent Davis join me in saying community partnership is the key to successful schools.

Through the Joint Schools Construction Board, we will continue to support our current and next generation of students with investments in our school facilities. Our students deserve world-class learning environments, and the JSCB is making sure they get them. The District, in coordination with the City Department of Engineering will closeout all major JSCB Phase II renovations this year. That includes projects at Corcoran, Nottingham, Fowler, and Henninger High Schools, and at eight elementary and middle schools. $34 million in work has been done here at Corcoran alone – new windows throughout the building, renovated bathrooms, a bigger cafeteria, five more classrooms, new seats here in the auditorium, an energy efficient mechanical system, new stadium turf and track, new sidewalks, fresh paving and exterior lighting. And that’s just the beginning – another $30 million in work here at Corcoran is planned.

JSCB Phase III is not far off with more renovation work coming at Blodgett, Delaware, Syracuse Latin, Lincoln, Roberts, Seymour, Webster, Henninger, Nottingham and again here at Corcoran. Governor Hochul and the Legislature have already approved $300 million for this work.

In a prime example of Next Level Growth for our children and families, progress is happening at the STEAM School at the former Central High School, a signature Syracuse Surge project. This regional Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math school will be a technology “employment incubator” allowing students from the city and other Central New York zip codes to obtain CTE certifications, employment credentials, and college credits. Curriculum development is well under way, architects are working on conceptual designs, and a construction manager has been selected. Groundbreaking is scheduled for later this year and we are targeting the first class for September 2025.

Former New York State Governor and U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who once said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future,” would look with favor on the investments in our SCSD facilities.

Le Moyne College’s ERIE21 program is a prime example of how we’re building our youth for the future. ERIE21 is providing early intervention in middle school with continued support through high school to help grow computational, software and engineering skills. The program has served more than 600 city school students, as well as a large group of adults through Careers in Coding programs.

At a time when our young people suffered from the isolation of the pandemic, the City, working with the Allyn Family Foundation, the United Way, CNY Works and funding from the American Rescue Plan, provided summer jobs to more than 2,000 Syracuse young people last year. With these and other programs, the potential of our students is unlimited.

Amina Salahou’s (SAL-uh-hoo) parents arrived in the United States from West Africa about 20 years ago. She grew up on the eastside and attended H.W. Smith and Nottingham. A 7th grade teacher ignited her interest in the world around her through a United Nations program about gender equality called Girl Up. She and her friends started a chapter in Syracuse. In high school, her activism flourished. Amina and a group of students launched a program to increase access to menstrual products for young women in our schools. Today, Amina is a sophomore at Harvard studying history and science with a secondary focus on economics. She interned for our Office of Accountability Performance and Innovation at City Hall sparking an interest in local government. And on her own initiative she runs Amina’s College Workshops, a program she started to edit college application essays for the next generation of high school students. Amina is a proud graduate of Syracuse schools and a product of Say Yes and OnPoint for College. She embodies all that is possible when we partner with and support our schools.

In the year ahead, city young people will benefit from the continued growth of the Syracuse Police Athletic and Activities League. From art contests to fishing to basketball to skateboarding and jiu jitsu, more than 4,000 city kids have participated in PAAL programs with mentoring and involvement of 150 police officers.

Our Syracuse Police and Fire Cadet programs are opening careers in firefighting and policing to students at PSLA @ Fowler and other young people in our city. At the same time we lift up our youth, cadet programs are the most effective way we can make sure our police and fire professionals represent the communities they serve. We have some fire cadets here with us tonight. Please stand and be recognized.

Next Level Growth: Thriving Neighborhoods

The second priority for Next Level Growth is thriving neighborhoods. Being here on the southwest side brings back memories of my own thriving childhood neighborhood. I grew up right around the corner on the dead end of Robineau Road, which leads into the heart of Elmwood Park. It’s home to the longest running block party in the city and last summer we celebrated its 50th anniversary. The surrounding school grounds and Elmwood Park were literally my backyard and playground. It was a truly magical place to grow up.

It’s the kind of idyllic neighborhood setting that people all too often assume can only be found in the suburbs, and since the 1950’s people have been moving further and further out of the city in search of it. It’s now time to recognize that looking beyond the city limits is not necessary. Strong neighborhoods are here on the southwest side and all over the city – ready to go to the next level. As we grow, we need to rediscover the magic in all our neighborhoods so current and future residents no longer feel the need to search for something that is already right in their backyard. To truly thrive, our neighborhoods just need a little help: quality affordable housing, strong business corridors and safer streets.

The Department of Neighborhood and Business Development will use the Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative to create more progress in 2023. There are currently 84 units of new construction, owner occupied single- and two-family houses completed or underway. We have 24 more “shovel ready” sites identified for construction this year and next. While the purpose of RNI is to build neighborhoods up, in some cases that means we have to tear down blighted properties that are too far gone. Over the past two years we have demolished 130 of these dilapidated structures and have plans to take down at least 80 more in the next two years.

Syracuse Housing Trust Fund

These actions will help address the immense housing challenges and opportunities we face, but they will not be enough.

A walk around the city reveals many properties in dire need of repair but there is limited capacity for city residents and property owners to complete this work. Tonight, I am proposing the creation of a new tool – the Syracuse Housing Trust Fund – to begin to close this gap for city residents in three ways. First, support the repair and improvement of small and mid-sized rental properties. Second, work with our existing home financing partners to increase mortgage and home improvement loan approvals for homeowners. And third, increase mixed income development to deconcentrate poverty. The Housing Trust Fund will be centered in equity to confront discriminatory practices of the past. We have $1 million to seed the creation of the Fund and will pilot the first projects in the New 15th Ward neighborhood. And we will work with our state and federal partners to establish a sustainable funding stream. Like the success of the Land Bank in reducing vacant houses, the Housing Trust Fund will help revitalize occupied properties, increase quality mixed-income housing, and expand economic opportunity.

The Division of Code Enforcement plays an essential role in ensuring quality housing and safe building conditions. It is a monumental responsibility, and I am proud of the progress our Codes team is making.

We implemented the Lead Hazard Reduction Office in September, allowing the full enactment of the Syracuse Lead Ordinance. It has already initiated or completed lead cases at nearly 500 properties. This is just in the first quarter of implementation. More inspections are happening every day and the hard work of ensuring compliance is underway.

Our Code inspectors are waging a relentless battle against bad property owners in three important ways. Last year, they issued 20% more code violations than the prior year – the first step to getting problems addressed. Second, Codes is working with the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication to get non-compliant cases ticketed. And third, in the really egregious, big cases where property owners are creating large-scale health and safety issues, the City is taking on the cleanup ourselves and billing the property owner for the full cost. Codes, DPW, SPD, Fire and Parks teamed up on three major property clean ups last year – clearing eyesores at the old Franciscan Academy campus on the north side, the corner of Burnet and Crouse Avenues on the east side and on North Lowell Street on the west side.

In 2022, with the support of the Council we implemented the tougher nuisance abatement law I announced at the last State of the City, and we’re already using it to hold bad property owners accountable.

Tobacco and Vaping Store Legislation

Tonight, I am announcing additional action to preserve our neighborhoods. This year, I will bring to the Common Council a new local law to address a growing neighborhood problem: the rampant proliferation of smoke shops. This new law will control the number and location of these operations by limiting the proximity of places selling tobacco and vaping products near schools, public parks and each other. The number of permitted sellers of tobacco and vaping products will be capped to those who have a valid State license as of the effective date of the law. These changes are essential to protect the health and safety of our neighborhoods and residents. Councilors, I urge your timely consideration and approval.

As we crackdown on troublesome properties and businesses, the RNI is lifting up and supporting good ones. Strong business corridors lead to thriving neighborhoods. We used ARPA funding to create a Commercial Corridor Improvement fund to activate vacant and underutilized properties. 43 projects representing nearly a half billion dollars in investment are benefitting from the funding. We named a full time Business Corridor Manager to oversee implementation of these grants, as well as to work with property owners on quality-of-life concerns that impede investment.

When I was at Corcoran earlier this month, one of the students gave me some pretty good advice about getting to the next level. He said, “Mayor, our neighborhoods – they need to pop.” I like that, and think we are heading in the right direction. You can see signs of it in every quadrant of the city.

Starting on the northside, there is no more visible sign than the revitalization of the long vacant Penfield building in Washington Square, which is being transformed into a mixed-use property with affordable and supportive housing. We also just landed a $1.5 million Restore New York grant which will support other nearby projects, including the repurposing of the former Franciscan Academy campus for quality senior housing. Down at the Inner Harbor, steel is rising at the new Rapid Response building and two Local Waterfront Revitalization Program projects are underway to reimagine the future of our city’s Lakefront.

On the southside, right next to the expansion coming at JMA Wireless, construction is far along on the new Syracuse Community Health Center. Work has also started across the street on the Salina First mixed-use project. In partnership with Syracuse Housing Authority and Blueprint 15, community engagement and planning continues on the New 15th Ward to improve housing and quality of life for its residents.

On the westside, the much-anticipated reuse of the former Syracuse Developmental Center will take major steps forward in 2023. We will start demolition and soon begin conducting a robust community engagement process to finalize its design plans.

On the eastside, the growth of new mixed-use developments along the East Genesee and East Fayette corridors has transformed that part of town. Further east we are working hand and hand with Le Moyne College to strengthen the Salt Springs neighborhood. Home HeadQuarters held its annual block blitz there and multiple city departments are now working with Le Moyne on infrastructure in the area to make it more pedestrian and cycle friendly and inviting to homeowners.

Syracuse University continues to make significant capital investments in and around its campus every year. I want to thank Chancellor Kent Syverud for his steadfast support of the city. The new services agreement we negotiated with SU last year, the only one of its kind in Syracuse, is a national model and is making a major contribution to the surrounding neighborhood.

Downtown continues its renaissance with new development activity – especially at the southern end. Projects will move forward this year on the Southwest Gateway Downtown Revitalization Initiative. City Centre in the former Sibleys will open. The Tech Garden expansion will start. Around Clinton and Hanover Squares, VIP Structures and Chase Design have settled in at The Post and we’ll soon be cutting the ribbon at the former M&T bank building, a new mixed-use project now known as The Treasury. Not to be outdone, we’re excited to be part of our own downtown revitalization projects as we prepare to sell City Hall Commons for redevelopment and move into our new digs at One Park Place later this year.

Public safety is the most essential component of all thriving neighborhoods. In cities all over the state and country, crime is a topic of grave concern. The COVID-19 pandemic created economic disruption and mental health crisis that contribute to rising crime rates. Syracuse ended 2022 with overall crime up 10%, largely driven by an increase in property crime. Violent crime rose at a lesser rate – 3%. Homicides, which have the most devastating and lasting consequences on families and society, by the grace of God fell by 38%. Yet any hope for an extended reprieve from lives lost to violence has quickly faded following three homicides already this year, including our most recent involving young Brexi.

Chief Cecile and his team at the Syracuse Police Department are pushing back on crime on all fronts. It’s clearance rate for solving homicides, once again, exceeds the national average.

Through hard work, Syracuse Police recovered 24% more guns last year and increased gun arrests by 10%.

SPD is continuing its work to improve services for persons in crisis in coordination with Onondaga County 911, the Department of Children and Family Services, and our local mental health care providers. SPD’s goal is to divert 80% of all non-violent person in crisis calls to counselors or mental health care providers.

The Department has increased CPTED projects – crime prevention through environmental design – at sites all over the city – clearing overgrowth and debris that are magnets for crime.

Last month, the Department swore in its unprecedented seventh class of new officers in five years. SPD is implementing best practice recruitment strategies, including text and social media messages and a community-based Recruitment Advisory Board.

Community Violence Intervention Plan

In 2022, we established Syracuse’s first Mayor’s Office to Reduce Gun Violence. The Office regularly convenes the many individuals and organizations working to reduce gun violence, and they are working with a new level of coordination, cooperation and partnership.

Tonight, I’m pleased to announce the Office to Reduce Gun Violence has completed its Community Violence Intervention plan and will begin implementing it this year. It will go after the leading cause of deadly violence in Syracuse: conflicts between gangs and groups of young people. The office will focus on four major contributing factors: entrenched cognitive and behavioral conditions; school absenteeism and limited career opportunity; high poverty levels; and lack of mental health support. There will be counseling, conflict management, mentoring, and job and school reentry programs. Through the coordinated efforts of our community violence intervention partners, we will find an enduring path to peace on our streets.

For the first time in its history, the Department starts 2023 with a full-time Wellness Coordinator to help our officers prepare for and withstand the immense physical, mental and emotional safety challenges of being a cop. The trauma experienced by the three police officers who were brazenly fired upon earlier this week is evidence of the urgent need for this service.

And to ensure the work of improving police-community relations and enhancing police accountability, the department now has its first Chief Accountability Officer. It ensures the most senior level attention on police reform and community relations while allowing the chiefs in charge of Uniform, Investigations and Support Services bureaus to focus on fighting crime and improving quality of life.

Neighborhood safety is also about emergency response. In 2022 your Syracuse Fire Department responded to nearly 12% more alarms than ever before. There were 79 major structure fires – 20 that required additional resources and ten that resulted in a second alarm. The average response time was once again the best in our region at two minutes and 53 seconds.

Chief Monds is leading a fire department with an unmatched commitment to excellence. The percentage of Syracuse firefighters earning one or more professional certifications last year was two and a half times greater than any other big New York department.

Chief Monds has a record throughout his career of working for diversity in the department. It’s a reflection of his firm conviction on how you make a fire department look like the community it serves. In his own words, Chief Monds says, “It will be the consistency – not the intensity – at which we address diversity and inclusivity that will make the difference.” The data proves this is true: the last three classes of firefighters have been the most diverse ever. Promotions of diverse members of the department also grew by more than 30% in the past four years.

As Syracuse readies for greater growth, it needs to reach the next level of preparedness for large structure fires. Yet, it’s been 15 years since we’ve had a live fire training facility for buildings over two stories. In 2023, we will open a new state-of-the-art fire training tower. In a city that already has more than 400 structures over three stories or higher – with many more sure to follow – the new training tower is a major advancement in community and firefighter safety.

In response to a growing crisis in the emergency services industry, SFD is now staffing a 24/7 ambulance transport service in our city. It’s filling a critical gap. The professionals who provide this vital service out of Engine Company 3 are facing tremendous demand. Some of the members of that unit are here tonight – please stand and be recognized.

Next Level Growth: Accessibility and Safe Streets

The great cities of the world are the ones that are easy and safe to get around with or without a car. They’re optimized to safely meet the needs of people who are walking, using bikes and scooters, and taking public transportation.

Syracuse has a unique opportunity to become one of those places. Our third priority to achieve Next Level Growth is making Syracuse a city that is easily accessible and safe to get around for all its residents.

In coordination with the Common Council and many community partners, we’ve made unprecedented strides to improve pedestrian infrastructure over the past few years with the introduction of the Municipal Sidewalk Maintenance Program and the expansion of the Sidewalk Snow Removal Program.

Additionally, we’re piloting new traffic calming measures, including speed humps, speed cushions, and reduced lane widths to slow traffic and increase safety on our streets. New bike lanes will continue to be installed and expanded.

Vision Zero: Eliminating Fatal Traffic Accidents and Serious Injuries

While much progress has been made, recent data suggests we still have a ways to go. According to the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council, the annual number of fatal crashes in the city nearly doubled in the past ten years. For too long, traffic deaths and serious injuries have been considered inevitable. With intentional traffic safety planning that puts people first, we can make our streets safer.

Tonight, building on Councilor Greene’s previous advocacy and the Council’s support of investments in safe streets, I’m asking the Community to join us in reaching for the next level: Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries while increasing safe, healthy, and equitable mobility for all. It is a comprehensive approach to traffic safety that considers everything from lane widths to land use to lower speed limits.

As a first step, we will bring legislation to the Council to improve safety for our youngest and most vulnerable road users by enforcing speed limits, without relying only on police traffic stops. We will introduce Speed Cameras and Red-light cameras in school zones. We will also work with the School District to install Bus Stop Arm cameras which issue tickets to people who put our children at risk by ignoring bus stop signs.

Working with the Council, we will develop a roadmap to declaring Vision Zero in Syracuse. This process will take stock of our current efforts, learn from municipalities who have seen great success in reducing serious crashes, and chart our path forward for not just sustaining the hard work we’ve done, but greatly expanding on it.

This is the right direction as Centro moves ahead with implementation of a Bus Rapid Transit System. BRT is an enhanced service with more frequent trips, new vehicles and improved stops and amenities along dedicated routes. Centro believes it can start the service in 2026. Achieving BRT is a key component of both the Syracuse Surge and Vision Zero, and it has been among my highest priorities as your mayor.

Make no mistake: the road to Vision Zero is a massive undertaking. It will take funding, staffing and hard choices. Going after Vision Zero is one of those Next Level Growth decisions we need to make now to benefit future generations.

Interstate 81 presents the same potential. I’m dismayed by the misguided legal action by Renew 81. It is creating confusion and delaying the inevitable. It must be concluded as quickly as possible.

Last summer, the city contracted with Dover Kohl & partners, one of the world’s most respected urban design firms, to lead a Community Grid vision plan for the future of Syracuse. We held a weeklong Community Studio, walking the neighborhoods, collecting feedback, drawing with residents and developing concepts in real time. The results were clear. Our constituents will accept nothing less than a plan that enables robust affordable and mixed-income housing opportunities, activates green spaces and creates equitable economic development.

We are listening to the community and working to include those priorities in the vision plan, which we expect to issue in the first half of this year. We will continue to work with the state to ensure design and construction plans are in keeping with best practices and that a Community Grid reaches its full restorative potential and becomes a model for the world.

Next Level Growth: Infrastructure Readiness and Resiliency

Infrastructure for a growing city includes roads, water pipes and sewers – and a lot more than that. We need to ensure we have a modern, forward looking zoning code coupled with an effective and efficient permitting process to accommodate new investment and accelerate quality development. We also need to have premier parks and places for recreation and entertainment. Our fourth priority for Next Level Growth is infrastructure readiness and resiliency.

Planning, Zoning and Permitting “One Stop Shop”

It’s been a long road to complete ReZone Syracuse, the first comprehensive update of the city’s zoning code in more than 50 years. After years of public engagement and a comprehensive environmental review, we will deliver a revised final ordinance for review to the Planning Commission and Common Council in February. ReZone addresses key zoning and land use priorities for a growing Syracuse, including the City’s first affordable housing requirements, new and improved citywide design standards, and a streamlined development review process. Councilors, I am grateful for the time you have taken to review ReZone. My team and I are ready to get the update across the finish line with you early this year.

As we build our organizational infrastructure and capacity to effectively manage new growth in the city, we are also working closely with Onondaga County to reimagine how we share planning services to ensure every municipality in the County is prepared for what’s to come. Later this year, we will work with the Council and County to transition staffing for zoning and landmark preservation administration from the Syracuse Onondaga County Planning Agency back to city government. In doing so, we will achieve a long sought after goal of establishing a true “one stop shop” for city permitting and development, and at the same time free up County planners to better facilitate smart, sustainable development in the suburbs and city alike.

To accommodate our new “one stop shop,” we will be relocating the Central Permit Office to a new storefront location at One Park Place, where we will be moving other city offices in conjunction with the sale of City Hall Commons. The new space will provide more parking for visitors and allow us to collocate all permitting functions on a single floor. When combined with a related organizational realignment of permit review functions, these changes will dramatically improve the city’s ability to accommodate the next level growth that’s coming.

Our handling of traditional infrastructure is improving, too. Last year, we again reconstructed more than four times the miles of roads that were done the year before I took office. We also introduced the most technologically enabled tools for snow removal in the nation and replaced more than 10,000 ft. of water mains dating back to the 1930s and earlier.

There is no more valuable infrastructure asset to a city than its parks. After COVID-19 forced reductions, Parks Recreation and Youth programs came back in full force in 2022. Membership at all our community centers grew – some by as much as 50%. Nearly 40,000 people used our city pools. We reached a record number of golf memberships and made more improvements to Sunnycrest and Burnet. To address the lifeguard shortage happening everywhere, we’ve introduced free lifeguard certification for any city resident to work at our pools – and we will do everything we can to open them all this year.

Parks facilities continue to get better. We have new playgrounds at Norwood Park and Cannon Street and resurfaced courts at parks citywide for safer play. There are new charging stations for power wheelchairs in our parks to improve access for all. We opened a kayak and canoe launch and a new pavilion alongside Onondaga Creek at Meachem last year, and we’ll open two more launches along the Creek this year at Kirk Park and the Inner Harbor.

Syracuse’s waterways, bike and pedestrian trails, Inner Harbor and lakefront are world class attractions. So tonight, I have two major announcements regarding these assets.

Onondaga Creekwalk Phase III

First, in 2023, we will get started planning Phase III of the Onondaga Creekwalk, extending the bike and pedestrian trail from its current end point near Kirk Park south to the city line. We have the funding to bring on an engineering design firm and start acquiring land and begin community engagement this year. It’s a commitment we need to make now for our next generations.

Trailside Family Recreation Hub

And second, we will bring plans to the Common Council for a new parks facility at the Inner Harbor. We will create a Trailside Family Recreation Hub to make it easier for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy our trails and waterways. To be located on a city-owned parcel near the Inner Harbor amphitheater, the facility will offer a lending library and rental stand for recreational equipment. It will make bicycles, adaptive hand cycles, kayaks, games and fitness equipment available and offer new activities and events.

Despite all of that and much more going on in our parks, when we met with students at Corcoran, they reminded us that young people still need more things to do. We are listening and tonight I have an announcement our young people will love. We will create and open the city’s first e-sports gaming facility at one of our existing buildings where our young people can gather together safely to compete and have fun.

As New York’s Flagship Smart City, we must keep investing in our digital infrastructure too. In the months ahead, we will take major steps to implement two programs to close the digital divide in the city. First, we’ll bring a proposal to the Common Council before spring to create a community broadband service for economically disadvantaged residents. Our goal is to have service connected to families on the near westside and southside by the end of this year. Second, we’ll launch the Digital Navigators program through the Northeast Community Center next month. The program will provide free laptops and 1:1 training for city residents.

Next Level Growth: Sustainable City Government

Our fifth and last Next Level Growth priority is creating a sustainable city government. None of this work is glamorous. In fact, in most cases, it is downright wonky. It’s also among the hardest work our city staff undertakes – almost always on top of their regular duties to constituents. A lot of this work has been put off for many years precisely because it is so hard.

We recently upgraded our online operating system – which was Windows 10 when we started – to the fully cloud compatible and more secure Office 365.

We’re replacing the City’s archaic paper time records with a fully electronic timekeeping system that allows for payroll modernization to reduce costs, operate more efficiently and better manage overtime.

We launched a fully updated new city website at, getting rid of a site that was nearly two decades old.

We’re ready to move ahead with a massive improvement in sanitation introducing covered trash cans with semi-automated pick up. It will improve safety for our sanitation workers and create a cleaner and healthier city. We can start the first phase in the middle of the year with Council approval of the required ordinance changes, including a provision to ensure all commercial properties handle their own hauling.

The Department of Assessment continues improving, making changes to more than 6,500 properties -- a 44% increase over the prior year.

In virtually every one of these examples of progress, the Office of Accountability Performance and Innovation plays a major role. From problem solving illegal setouts to reengineering how we hire people, API is finding new and better ways for city government to operate.

Progress continues toward fiscal sustainability. Sales tax revenue has continued to grow – up 7% in the first few months of our current fiscal year. Economic growth is finally raising property tax revenue without raising the tax rate. We have not turned the corner yet – our operating costs still exceed annual revenue, but the city’s fund balance now exceeds $100 million. We need that cushion as we work toward sustainability.

Engineering is implementing more Dig Once infrastructure work than at any time in decades which will create more resilient and reliable city services long into the future. A major combined water, sewer, utility and road reconstruction project on Butternut Street was finished in 2022 and more Dig Once projects will advance on West Genesee Street and Colvin Street this year.

We’re undertaking large scale climate resiliency projects on the sewer systems in Outer Eastwood and Meadowbrook and we’re addressing flood risks with sediment removal and channel repairs in Cold Brook and Furnace Brook.

We’re overhauling our fleet in DPW and other departments. A prime example is our snow removal equipment which was failing five years ago. Our big plows were nearly a decade or more old and were constantly breaking down – making it difficult to get enough plows on the street. Now, they average two years old.

Our fleet is so improved that when a devastating winter storm dumped more than five feet of snow on our neighbors in Buffalo, the City of Syracuse was able to help. The snow was falling and lives were still at risk when a team of nine Syracuse DPW heroes headed west to help clear roads and free snowbound residents. Even these grizzled veterans came across conditions they’d never confronted before. After four long days they came home having earned the respect and admiration of an entire city. A Buffalo resident sent me this thank you card. “You have an amazing group of employees,” she wrote. “If you weren’t already, you should be very proud.”

Well, I am, and I’m also pleased to tell you that members of that brave team are here tonight. I’d ask our DPW heroes to please stand and be recognized for your selflessness and your demonstration of Syracuse’s readiness for the future.

Sustainable Growth and Opportunity for All

Syracuse still faces daunting challenges. Far too many residents are starved of opportunity which fuel the agonizing consequences of poverty and violence. Tonight, we’ve charted plans for a better future: preparing our youth, creating thriving neighborhoods, making Syracuse safer and more accessible, readying our infrastructure for growth and resiliency, and ensuring a sustainable city government.

We are, for the first time in decades, experiencing growth. Our prospects for the future are even brighter. Syracuse is, undoubtedly, a rising city. Our great calling now is to prepare for Next Level Growth – to ensure that our decisions and actions in the pivotal months and years before us create sustainable growth and opportunity for all. For the students here at Corcoran and children across our city we must act urgently and in the best interests of our next generations.

Thank you all for your time this evening. God bless, have a good night, and please, be safe.