September 14, 2003
Huge S. Salina St. facelift on hold
Saving historic facades too costly. Future of Excellus
Friday, December 03, 2004
By Marnie Eisenstadt, Staff writer
The Excellus parking garage project was pitched as a win-win for the city
ó the new 1,000-spot complex would keep the insurance company in the city
while giving the 300 block of South Salina Street a needed facelift.
It was an elaborate plan that would have replaced a row of old buildings
with seven stories of parking, apartments, condominiums and retail at a cost
of $30 million.
Building owners put their renovations on hold and shopkeepers began
looking for new storefronts.
But after two years on the drawing board, the plan has fallen apart. City
officials are working with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield to find a new spot
for the parking garage elsewhere in the city, but South Salina Street will
not be part of the project. And plans for a 40,000-square-foot expansion at
Excellus, originally expected to bring 175 new jobs, are uncertain.
"We still expect to proceed with an expansion, but the size and scope is
currently being reviewed in light of the city's proposal," said Liz Martin,
a spokeswoman for Excellus, which employs about 1,000 people on South Warren
The South Salina Street plan crumbled after the city found it would be
too expensive to keep the facades of the old buildings, something required
by the state Historic Preservation Office.
Neither Martin nor City Operations Director Charles Everett would discuss
where the new parking complex will be. But both said they expected to reach
an agreement on it in the near future.
Everett said the change doesn't mean the city plans to leave South Salina
Street the way it is.
"The mayor's economic development initiative still includes that area of
Salina Street, however it will not be part of the Excellus project," he
Though Mayor Matthew Driscoll's office called the South Salina Street
building project a concept, he had it thought out down to the colors he
wanted to see on the massive building red brick, gray stone and a green
That project has been dropped, leaving the city without a clear plan for
that part of South Salina Street.
Everett said the mayor has been talking with the Metropolitan Development
Association about getting funds to rehabilitate some of the buildings.
Irwin Davis, president of the MDA, did not return phone calls seeking
Everett said the mayor also has been talking with Centro about moving its
hub to another area of the city, a project thatís already received federal
funding. And he is working on a plan to link South Salina Street to Armory
Square using the Wilson Building, which the city owns.
State Sen. John DeFrancisco, who helped obtain $5 million from the
stateís Empire Opportunity Fund for the garage project, said his primary
concern was keeping Excellus from leaving the city. But one of the reasons
he liked the garage plan so much was that it fixed two problems at once by
satisfying Excellusí parking needs and fixing up South Salina Street.
"I hope thereís some way to clean up the 300 block," DeFrancisco said. He
said the availability of the money is not likely to be affected by the
change in plans.
The city also received $2 million for a similar garage project for
Hartford Insurance. Everett said the mayor has been talking with that
company and the MDA about possible sites, but it will likely take months to
reach an agreement.
"The critical element is making sure Hartford as well as Excellus stay in
the downtown locations that they are still in," Everett said.
As the city scraps one set of plans for the Excellus garage and moves to
finalize another, building owners on South Salina Street said a lack of
communication about the project has left them in limbo. They said city
officials never contacted them to say the garage plan no longer included
Roni Hoque , who owns Dollar Wise at 313 S. Salina St., said he has kept
plans for his business on hold because he wasnít sure what would become of
his building. "Itís been hard for us to predict, project," Hoque said. "If
this didnít come, I wouldíve upgraded."
Peter Elitzer, who owns the Label Shopper at 317 S. Salina St., had used
the upper floors of his building for storage in the past. But for the last
two years, he hasnít because of the cityís plans. He also has put renovation
plans on hold, he said.
"Itís been frustrating to say the least. The city hasnít communicated,"
Elitzer said. "It would have been hard to handle it worse."
Betsy VanBramer, too, has been struggling with the current situation.
She works for Excellus and has been getting rides to work when she can
instead of dealing with parking. She had been parking in the garage across
from Excellus, but it is being renovated right now, so spots are limited and
the ones that are available are often a mess.
"I would love to see (Excellus) go outside the city with a big garage,"
© 2004 The Post-Standard.