Reaching Residents

Reaching Residents

Blueprint 15 presents its plan to redevelop the East Adams Neighborhood

By Eddie Velazquez

Syracuse community leaders and housing authorities gathered virtually Friday for Blueprint 15’s first informational forum of the year, discussing the “holistic revitalization” of the neighborhood adjacent to Interstate 81.

Blueprint 15 — a non-profit organization partnered with the city of Syracuse, Syracuse Housing Authority (SHA) and the school district — is eyeing an ambitious plan to reinvigorate the East Adams Street community and transforming it into a mixed-income neighborhood with access to local schools, economic development, health and wellness programs and reliable transportation. However, firstly, the organization must deal with the uncertainty brought forth by its neighbor I-81.

The highway, which is at the center of national conversations around demolition and replacement, has played a contentious role in the history of the East Adams Street footprint. The completion of the I81 project, decades ago, displaced families of color living in the area formerly known as the 15th Ward.

“(Blueprint 15) and its partners zeroed in on the legacy of the 15th Ward and the atrocity that happened to that community with the erection of I-81,” said Blueprint 15 Board Chair and Syracuse Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens during the meeting. “As we look for our organization to be bold, the first part of that is to acknowledge what happened before and that it cannot keep happening. Development is wonderful for our city but not at the expense of its residents.”

Blueprint 15 will offer a followup virtual presentation 8 a.m. Thursday, March 25, as part of the weekly Thursday Morning Roundtable (TMR) Zoom talk. Due to increased privacy and security concerns, organizers require all attendees to pre-register. Speakers will include: Stephanie Pasquale, director of neighborhood advancement at the Allyn Family Foundation; Arlaina Harris, director of community partnerships at Blueprint 15, and Bill Simmons, executive director of the SHA.

Cementing a legacy that honors the history of the area, which is approximately 27 square blocks owned by SHA, includes a vision to build 1,100 to 1,400 new mixed-income apartment units that will accommodate the needs of a diverse population, according to the organization’s mission statement.

Panel speakers, clockwise from top left, included: Sharon Owens, Mikki Anderson, Bill Simmons and Stephanie Pasquale.

Moderated by Melanie Littlejohn, the regional executive director at National Grid, Friday’s virtual panel —comprised of Owens; as well as Blueprint 15 board members Bill Simmons, executive director of SHA; Mikki Anderson, Purpose Built Communities vice president, and Blueprint 15 interim CEO Stephanie Pasquale — provided a brief overview of the organization’s history, as well as a preview of what is next before work on the aging I-81 is said to begin in 2022.

A main focus of the organization is to communicate to residents.

“This is the most important issue right now for us. The folks who live in that area have been inundated with information from the (Department of Transportation) and (SHA),” Owens said, comparing the situation to a “jumbled stew.” “That is one role Blueprint wants to play, to be a conduit where people can figure out the information, because the project is (confusing and overlapping between different organizations). We want to be able to play a role in deciphering that information and making it as straightforward as possible.”

In the past year, the organization has worked on securing funding for staffing needs, according to Pasquale.

“The questions we receive are at their core about displacement,” Pasquale said. “Our organization was selected to receive a $1 million grant from Enterprise Community Partners and this was the only anti-displacement neighborhood strategy that was funded.”

The grant, Pasquale added, has allowed the organization to hire staff, including Arlaina Harris as director of community partnerships to kickstart a “neighborhood navigators” program. The initiative enlists residents who connect and build relationships in the community for further involvement in planning.

“It’s slow. It’s hard, and it’s messy, but that is what we are doing every day,” Pasquale said.

Over the last year, the organization has also held several community outreach events in order to determine the needs of neighborhood residents, as well as try to alleviate concerns regarding food security that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We do thousands of door to door outreach sessions so people can come out to our food security events, and hope to connect with people and talk through how we can help,” Pasquale said.

Workforce development programs, home ownership and anti-eviction strategies are also pillars of the organization’s strategy, according Pasquale, who noted Blueprint 15 has held workshops on these subjects.

“A common theme here is building,” she said. “We are building community infrastructure. We are building relationships and connecting funders and organizations who perhaps have never looked into investing in this neighborhood before.”

The organization’s offices are currently located at the Educational Opportunities Center at 100 New St., but Pasquale noted they are planning to eventually move to a mixed-use building on Montgomery Street in the fall.

Eddie Velazquez is a freelance reporter in Central New York. You can share news tips with him at edvel37@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @ezvelazquez