Tuesday, 07 June 2016 21:49

Memoirs of a Small Town Mayor: Time For A Sunset Center?

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One of the breathtaking sunsets often seen over Lake Ontario One of the breathtaking sunsets often seen over Lake Ontario Bob Day photo

Nature, and the relative purity and simplicity of it, is very alluring. Beauty abounds in it, and, in short, nature sells… Big time.

When we walk into the supermarket, we are bombarded by "natural" products. There is very little promotion of anything “non-natural”. The Adirondacks and the natural, forever  wild aspect of that part of the state is very appealing. So is the ambience of living next to a very large body of water... the natural feel of it is palpable.

Lake Ontario, for example,  looks and often behaves more like an ocean than a lake. It's waves can be fierce and erosive. It's tranquility and deep blue sea aura can be both enveloping and enduring. You can skip stones on its rippily waves, sail or boat on its vast surface or immerse yourself in its immensity. It is all encompassing in it's naturalness. It is where the water never ends, and where the sun sets squarely into the water's horizon as if it were a sinking saucer like spacecraft, giving off amber, blue and pink waves as it does, and painting the sky with natural hues that amaze us and embrace us at the same time. A Lake Ontario sunset along its eastern shoreline near Oswego is nothing short of magnificent. It is also very marketable. If you don't believe me, just ask the Key West Chamber of Commerce.

Every night in Key West , locals and tourists alike gather around Mallory Square to watch the sun go down. There are jugglers, clowns , musicians and other busker like entertainers who create a festival like atmosphere leading up to the sizzle of the setting sun. It is a nightly happening, and you don't even get to see the sun go down directly in the water. The view is partially blocked by a breakwall in the harbor.

One of my unrealized dreams as Mayor was to replicate this sunset experience. I envisioned a Mallory Square-like setting along the north shore of Breitbeck Park, with an amphitheater on the water with boat docks extending from it and tiered seats along the north side slope. We called it " Sunset Center", and I had an architect draw up a rendering of what it would look like. We floated the idea to Niagara Mohawk, along with its million dollar (at the time) price tag. My pitch to them was to make the big ugly of the steam plant the big beautiful. They didn't buy the idea, however. I am still not sure why, but maybe it was an idea whose time had not yet come. I can still see the vendors and the buskers patrolling the north shore of the park at dusk, with a municipal band concert being presented in the Sydney Opera House like cupola stage on the floating docks on the water. How delightful that would be!

It would boost tourism. It would convey a warmer image for the city than blizzard like photos of students groping rope chains to pass classes. And it would be a positive step for the economy with spin offs for the local restaurants and shops. So much could be gained by it.

IMG 4375There are lots of other ideas we had which were left on the drawing board for lack of financial resources to see them through. Some things we did achieve, like the Civic Plaza. In it’s original iteration, it would have included an underground passageway from City Hall to the newly renovated post office, with an aquarium on both sides of the passageway. Unfortunately, that part of the plan got scratched due to budgetary constraints. In the end, We were lucky to be able to actually build the plaza. We even had protesters walking up and down the street with signs saying “Sullivan’s folly” ! (Truth be known, there were only two protestors, Alderman John Canale and vocal administration critic John “Buck” Richardson, who my assistant Eli dubbed “Buck and a half”).

We advanced lots of ideas for the transformation of the community, but I am not the only former Mayor or Mayoral candidate who dreamed big dreams. I recall Dan Jackson’s plans for skating on the canal, and Ralph Pauldine’s call for a Civic Center on the Fitzgibbons site. One of my other unrealized ideas was to have a Power Center/Tower of Power built on the old Grain elevator site, which would celebrate the methods of generating electricity, including nuclear, that Oswego has historically been such a big part of. It could also serve as a classroom for NYS students interested in a greener energy mix.

Another one was to build a very tall 30 foot sculpture on the East side of the river, built of Alcan donated aluminum, that would represent the sunset, and gateway to the Seaway , as a kind of pointed arch (a/k/a St. Louis like). We called it the Gateway monument, and it was to be built to honor Col. William Blaney, who was one of the first defenders of Fort Ontario to die in the Revolutionary war. Opposition to the monument was led by aldermen like Tom Halpin , who called it the “Shintu” monument. City Historian Rosemary Nesbitt also opposed it as she favored a large tombstone like monument, or another design with cannons and balls. We argued that our Gateway monument design, by noted Oswego Art Professor and Sculptor Nick D’Inncenzo, was a testament to life, not to death… To new horizons and new opportunities. We lost that battle. Death won, and today, there is a mini Transamerica shaped pyramid stone monument to Col. Blaney behind the Captain’s Quarters hotel. I refused to go to the dedication of that monument, and every time I walk by it I am tempted to throw a big black cloak over it. Perhaps they should move it to the westside linear Veteran’s park area, where it would at least fit in appropriately.

Another idea we had was to build a Liffey River type pedestrian bridge (Dublin’s most famous bridge) to the Bridge St. Island where the McKay shoe store once stood. That would open up the Old City Hall area for re-shaping and development. There were several more ideas which I can discuss in a later column. Perhaps we can dust off some of these ideas, one at a time, and conduct an informal poll as to which, if any, of the ideas,  deserve further consideration. Are these ideas whose time may now have come? Can Oswego make the transition it needs to make to fully realize its potential? Shall we even dare to let the discussion begin? You be the judge of that.

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