After losing out on millions of dollars in tax revenue and spending millions more in bankruptcy court, Onondaga County has gotten legal control of Shoppingtown Mall. Now the County’s just got to figure out what to do with that 70 acre property. Given the geographic location of the site and the demographic trends in the immediate area, the best thing to do with this property is to redevelop it as a residential neighborhood.
The Shoppingtown property sits in Dewitt near the eastern end of Erie Boulevard. This part of Dewitt is booming. Between 2000 and 2014, the population of census tract 146 grew by 31%, and median household income rose by 12% more than in the county as a whole.
The Town of Dewitt is also a major employment center. One out of every six jobs in Onondaga County is in Dewitt, and more than one out of every five jobs in Dewitt is in census tract 146. 19% of workers who live in the town also work there—only the Town of Skaneateles and the City of Syracuse employ a greater share of their local population.
All of this indicates that Dewitt is a good place to live and that lots of people really do want to live there.
But Dewitt also has some real problems. The relatively low ratio of workers to jobs means that 19 of every 20 people who work in Dewitt commute from outside the town. That’s the highest ratio of any town in the County, and it means that tens of thousands of people are bringing their cars into Dewitt every day. All those people driving all those cars leads to traffic congestion and air and noise pollution—concerns that loom large as NYSDOT prepares to remove the Downtown 81 viaduct.
And at the same time, Dewitt’s population growth is stagnating. Since 2014, census tract 146’s population has actually dropped by 9%, and median household income has barely kept pace with the rest of the County. Over that same period the tract saw almost no new housing construction, and median rent increased by about 7% or $50 a month.
Dewitt is a good place to live, so people want to move there. There isn’t enough housing, so that demand translates to higher prices and a stagnant population. Combine that stagnant population with a robust job market, and you get lots of people commuting into the town, bringing traffic and pollution.
The solution is to build more housing, and that’s what should happen on the Shoppingtown parcel.
The town government already has a plan to do this. They recently created a zoning overlay that designated this parcel as ‘mixed-use village.’ That designation allows for the construction of housing, retail, and park space all in the same area.
The goal of this new zoning overlay is to “encourage the adaptive reuse of aging commercial strip developments” by creating “village centers” that provide both “a high level of amenities that creates a comfortable environment for pedestrians, bicyclists and other users” and “a sufficient density of employees, residents and recreational users to support public transit.”
In other words, exactly what the Town of Dewitt needs.
Redeveloped this way, Shoppingtown could become a desirable neighborhood like so many others in this part of the County. It could allow more people to move into this attractive area in order to access all of the amenities and opportunities that already exist there. It could reduce traffic congestion and pollution by letting more people live close to the places where they work by letting them get to work on foot, on bike, and on public transportation. It’s would bring new life to this dead mall.