Oh, boy; just when you were harboring smug thoughts about Syracuse University’s mortal football enemy, the Penn State sex abuse took a back seat. The Bernie Fine scandal redirected the national spotlight on Syracuse, and shortly thereafter Mayor Stephanie Miner, the Syracuse Police Department and the district attorney jumped into the fray. It hasn’t been a pretty sight.
No one has escaped blame in this melodrama: accuser Bobby Davis and his stepbrother, Bernie Fine’s upstanding wife Laurie, head coach Jim Boeheim, the SU administration, even the media. And once it was reported that attorney-tothe-accused Gloria Allred had agreed to counsel the accusers, the defamation lawsuit swiftly followed.
But not all local news, Version 2011, was of the variety you tired of hearing. Some wasn’t really news at all (hello, Destiny/Carousel expansion), some of it brought positive publicity our way (tons of Rosamond Gifford Zoo news) and some of was head-scratch inducing (Clear Channel’s dumping of Jim Reith, the bankruptcy of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra).
This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive overview, just some of the more interesting, in a New Times way, items that crossed our desks in 2011.
The work took a little less than a year, but in that time the 83-year-old former Loew’s State Theater was transformed into a 21st-century entertainment spot worthy to host the next big Broadway show. Costing $16 million, the renovation isn’t quite complete—a new marquee is in order—but it is allowing Landmark brass to book shows they couldn’t handle before. We were fortunate enough to have been invited to 11 months’ worth of behind-the-scenes, start-to-finish work on the stately pleasure dome.
After some media outreach to prepare us for what was to come, The I-81 Challenge sent out a call to action from all sectors of society for what to do with our civic bisector. When it was built 50 years ago, Interstate 81 was controversial. While several generations had resigned themselves to having a raised roadway running through the center of the city, the controversy has returned with the discussion of what to do about it. From helping designate Syracuse as the Crossroads of New York state, the 1.4-mile viaduct, or raised portion, is now seen as a destroyer of urban neighborhoods, an ungodly eyesore and a danger to pedestrians and the 96,000 motorists who use it daily to get into the city, out of the city and through the city.
On May 4, residents were invited to several study sessions, public workshops and discussion groups focusing on the future of the interstate. The officials involved in this project—the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council and the state Department of Transportation—presented what other cities have done with their aging interstates, noise measurements at various spots along the highway, travel demand, a transportation-land use cycle and more.
Public comment was encouraged, recorded and published on the handy website theI81challenge.org. What’s refreshing about the process is that this public input will be considered in the final determination of what to do about the roadway, and be assured, something will be done. You may as well participate so you don’t do the Syracuse shuffle and complain about not being listened to during the process.
Loving him or hating him wasn’t the point. The point of The Jim Reith Show, which used to air weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. on WSYR-AM 570, was its local content. While not entirely journalism at its finest, Reith’s blab-fest always covered Syracuse issues, welcomed Syracuse guests and hung up on Syracuse callers. Even former Newhouse School dean David Rubin came to Reith’s defense and called out Clear Channel for limiting discourse as the hallmark of a democratic society.
Every so often these last few weeks, Reith has posted coy status updates on Facebook about having something big in the works, and working on his next big project. Which could mean he’s going to, after all these years, get paid to be a shill for Destiny, or he’s moving permanently to his secret, undisclosed, Jersey Shore location.
Wayne Mahar's Wet Dream
Conservative politicians can deny the existence of global warming, but crazy weather events across the country, including some right here at home, occurred frequently throughout the year. Near-record local snowfall started early in December 2010 and caused two roofs to collapse under the weight of heavy accumulation by February. A church in Memphis caved in just days before a commercial building in Mottville suffered the same fate.
Heavy rain added to a lot of melted snow to cause spring flooding as 1.79 inches of rain crashed down in a horrendous storm on April 26, contributing to eight inches within 19 days ending May 4. Not surprisingly, sinkholes developed on several city streets including a gaping chasm at the downtown corner of South Franklin and West Washington streets in early June. More flooding followed another massive downpour that arrived as the remnants of Hurricane Irene on Aug. 28, causing the lightest attendance day in memory on the first Sunday of the New York State Fair.
Central New Yorkers, especially those with Asian roots, reacted with horror to news of an earthquake and tsunami that blasted Japan March 11. That tragic news made a tremblor felt in Syracuse on Aug. 23 a little scarier, but no major damage was reported. Still, it lit up the Facebook airwaves for a time.
In a stark reversal, this year’s whitening of streets has been delayed as we’ve seen only one inch in Syracuse as Christmas approaches.Animal Planet
New Rosamond Gifford Zoo director Ted Fox took over the keys in June after last year’s retirement of Chuck Doyle. Several resident animals added to the zoo’s population with the births of a patis monkey in January, a two-toed sloth in February and three Amur tiger cubs in May.
But the zoo’s most exciting news came with the November return of Asian elephants Targa, Mali and Little Chuck from exile in Toronto. The three pachyderms had been on sabbatical awaiting completion of the new elephant habitat, which opened last month.
On March 29 the Board of Trustees suspended artistic operations of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra.
Musicians and staff were to be laid off, effective April 3. On April 5 the announcement was made that the SSO would file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a surprise to the public and members of the orchestra alike.
In “And the Band Played On”, a story published in the Syracuse New Times on May 4, former conductor and music director of the SSO, Daniel Hege, explained, “We knew that staff and musicians would be laid off, but there was still a glimmer of hope. So when bankruptcy came swiftly, that was a surprise, a shock to us all. And when you file Chapter 7, that’s a very permanent step.”
Assets were auctioned, finger-pointing abounded and the lives of 81 people were changed in the blink of an eye. Former principal trombone player, John Sipher, voiced his feelings in The New Times article. “People are taking glee in the orchestra going under. With management, that’s 81 people’s lives and families that are just up in the air now. It’s a shame. There’s a lot of good people in that orchestra.”
Though the dissolving of the SSO is complete, some members reformed as Symphony Syracuse in May. Arguments have emerged in recent months as various options have been discussed for the future, including plans incorporating the help of Syracuse University, a non-union orchestra and only part-time positions. The drama continues.
Former Syracuse Mayor and Congressman William Walsh, the patriarch of a powerful political family, headed the list of prominent Central New Yorkers who died this year. Lobbyist Jim Walsh, also a former congressman, eulogized his father at his Jan. 12 funeral, four days after his death at age 98, saying he had a unique approach to governance and public life.
Law enforcers Richard Hennessey (April 18), a former Onondaga County district attorney, and Rod Carr (Mar.11), the Phoenix police chief and former Syracuse Police spokesman, also died this year. John Mackey, who went from football hero for Syracuse University and the Baltimore Colts to tragic case study of the effects of dementia, died July 6.
Longtime Syracuse Newspapers theater and movie critic Joan E.
Vadeboncouer died Jan. 4. A three-day estate sale, held at the family home in Cazenovia, saw the sale of a spectacular collection of jewelry, antiques, family heirlooms and celebrity memorabilia.
Friends and customers gathered outside Sparky Town restaurant, 324 Burnet Ave., the evening of Nov. 21 to commemorate business owner and community advocate Linda “Sparky” Mortimer, who had died suddenly that day.
Accomplished local chef Brian Shore, who had owned and operated Kettle Lakes, an upscale restaurant in Tully, for years, before tackling a number of other chef jobs, died on Dec. 3, the result of a suicide. An incredibly talented and accommodating chef—he had been named Chef of the Year in 2008 by the American Culinary Federation, Syracuse chapter—Shore is survived by his fiancé, his mother and his daughter. He was 50.
Lily, a swan who was popular with visitors to Valley Drive’s Webster Pond, was killed when struck by a car in April.
The megamall morphing of Carousel Center continues as we speak, with a mostly empty expansion opened up to show Christmas shoppers the endless possibilities, although those tenants have yet to move in. Meanwhile, the Petropolis-based shopping center lost two anchors, both due to chainwide bankruptcies: Borders Books, a victim of Internet commerce vs. brick-and-mortar instabilities, and the overpriced Ultimate Electronics, which lasted barely six months at Carousel (at the checkout counter, soon-to-be-ex-employees fashioned a dartboard with a photo of the Ultimate owner’s face as a bull’s-eye). The Hess gas station (above) was ripped down, too, to make way for the Hiawatha Boulevard grand entrance to Destiny, so expect the nearby Carousel Center-Regal Cinemas signage to likewise vanish sometime in the new year.
The rejuvenated sign at Spencer and Liberty streets illuminated the rebirth of the former Little Gem Diner that went from eyesore to attraction with its June reopening. Syracuse restaurateur Doug LaLone renovated the steel-sided building, giving his sparkling new Gem a stunning makeover with more dining area and a new deck and was rewarded with a steady flow of customers happy to see the old favorite open again.
The pin-fall windfall from the invasion of 30,000 bowlers from around the nation scattered across a wide alley of Central New York during the USBC’s Women’s Open that ran for three months beginning April 7 on specially constructed lanes at the Oncenter. Syracuse attracted attention with two nationally televised events while the kegglers increased business at local hotels, restaurants and retailers when they weren’t knocking down pins.