A Mall and a Dream

This is a story that sparks the imagination, one that dares you to dream big.  This is the story of a remarkable student and a revolutionary idea to completely transform Shoppingtown Mall. 

In the spring of 2016, our friends at the SUNY ESF Landscape Architecture Department took an interest in the Elevating Erie project.  They assigned various design teams with the monumental task of providing solutions to the many design challenges along the historic Erie Canal corridor in DeWitt and Syracuse. 

A number of LA students made this project their own and took their design concepts to the next level.  One of these highly passionate students was Kaitlin Campbell. 

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Figure 1: Kaitlin Campbell, Senior Architecture Student at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Figure 1: Kaitlin Campbell, Senior Architecture Student at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Kaitlin Campbell Biography

Kaitlin Campbell is currently a fourth year Bachelor of Landscape Architecture student at SUNY ESF.  At the moment, she resides in Latham, New York.  Kaitlin became interested in landscape architecture because it let her creative mind mesh with her love for the outdoors; spurred from summers spent at camp on Lake George. Kaitlin participated in the Erie Boulevard revitalization project assigned during the spring semester third year studio.  She took a keen interest in the Shoppingtown area, and quickly became engrossed in the project, which has inspired her to pursue a future career in planning.

 

Why Shoppingtown?

Why did Kaitlin choose to focus mainly on Shoppingtown Mall?  When she looked at Shoppingtown, she saw what was once a vibrant 988,000 square foot regional mall packed with bustling businesses and heavy foot traffic, now in an extreme state of decline.  Sadly, this decline started 10 years ago and has continuously eroded the mall’s vitality, with many businesses fleeing to locations just down the street.  Only two major businesses now anchor the Shoppingtown to the community and keep the mall alive; Sears and Regal Cinemas.

Shoppingtown first opened in March of 1959 as the region's largest outdoor strip shopping center.  Years later, the strip mall was expanded and redeveloped into the single structure that we see today.  It enjoyed great success in its early years, bringing customers from all over the region, and providing a home to dozens of businesses, both large and small.  Shoppingtown Mall is now a shadow of its formal self, a ghost town filled with the eerie silence of dark store fronts and a few wandering customers.  Its deserted parking lots form a bleak ocean of grey and black asphalt as far as the eye can see.  The mall is an island unto itself with little to no connection to the community that it is supposed to serve.  However, instead of seeing a future of vacant lots and condemned structures, Kaitlin saw a wonderful opportunity waiting to emerge.

While the mall may consist of nearly abandoned and outdated structures, this does not change the fact that it remains a highly valuable central location, one which grants it a unique advantage going forward.    

Proposed Concept

Kaitlin’s design proposal is nothing short of transformational.  She envisions a mixed-use community, accommodating residential, commercial, office, and recreational spaces that would convert Shoppingtown into a town center for DeWitt.  The proposal strategically places buildings along a central street where pedestrians are given priority. Parking spaces are located behind the buildings.  See figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Kaitlin Campbell’s Proposed Master Plan for Shoppingtown Mall & the Bordering Section of Erie Boulevard

Figure 2: Kaitlin Campbell’s Proposed Master Plan for Shoppingtown Mall & the Bordering Section of Erie Boulevard

Furthermore, the design makes use of beautiful and carefully designed outdoor spaces for users and residents.  These spaces not only provide enjoyable landscapes, but easy access to public transportation as well. The boulevard style from Erie Boulevard would also be continued into the proposed town center site, a style which includes median swales with natural landscapes for enhanced stormwater management.

This concept proposes widening the Erie Boulevard median, and decreasing the number of lanes from three to two in each direction in order to slow traffic. Sidewalks would be widened on the boulevard to give priority back to the pedestrian. In addition, this design features dedicated bicycle lanes along the boulevard to ensure bike safety and an uninterrupted connection for bike traffic to and from the canalway path.  See figure 3 below.  All in all, what Kaitlin is proposing is not a new mall, but what is known as a Lifestyle Center.

Figure 3: Kaitlin Campbell's Proposed Street Configuration for Erie Boulevard & the Shoppingtown Area

Figure 3: Kaitlin Campbell's Proposed Street Configuration for Erie Boulevard & the Shoppingtown Area

Hello Lifestyle Center!

All in all, what Kaitlin is proposing is not a new mall, but what is known as a Lifestyle Center.  Good-bye indoor shopping mall!  The lifestyle center is a new design concept that has gained momentum across the U.S.  They draw their inspiration from the traditional concept of the ‘American Main Street’ where stores were not separated from the community, but were directly woven into the fabric of the neighborhood itself.  People could do their shopping, and then walk a few feet back to their homes, or stop at a café to enjoy a coffee while they watched their kids play in the park.  See figure 4 below.

Figure 4:  Kaitlin Campbell's Proposal Street View 1

Figure 4:  Kaitlin Campbell's Proposal Street View 1

The lifestyle center aims to recapture this sense of community, creating a new kind of retail space in which people are provided with the best of what private and public services have to offer.  See figure 5 below. 

Figure 5: Kaitlin Campbell's Proposal Street View 2

Figure 5: Kaitlin Campbell's Proposal Street View 2

Implications

Kaitlin’s design is important to us at Elevating Erie for two main reasons.  First, it takes what is currently a dying commercial area and gives it new life, thus creating a new source of pride for the community. 

Secondly, it would shift the focus away from cars toward pedestrians, bicycles, and other forms of transit.  This is revolutionary for Central New York where the car still reigns supreme, dominating both our neighborhoods and road systems.  Kaitlin's design combines aspects of old and modern design that can be applied to not only Shoppingtown Mall, but the rest of the region as well.  It would set a powerful precedent going forward for multi-modal and mixed-use roads and districts.  Let’s make it happen! 

Looking back at the Spanning the Gap' Bike Ride

On Tuesday, we kicked off an official bike ride to explore the Gap in the Erie Canalway Trail between DeWitt and Camillus.  Thirteen cyclists from different walks of life, and from as far away as Ithaca and New York City, gathered at the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park Trail Head in DeWitt.  It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, a wonderful conclusion to the thunderstorms that had just passed through.

We kick-started the event with a presentation from Sam Gordon, Director of Planning & Zoning with the Town of DeWitt, who introduced the Elevating Erie Initiative and the objectives of the Spanning the Gap bike tour, as well as our special guest Molly Garfinkle from City Lore.  Daylight Blue Media also came along for the ride, documenting and experiencing firsthand the challenges of this ambitious 14 mile excursion.

Erie Canal Trail Head, DeWitt NY

Erie Canal Trail Head, DeWitt NY

We shipped off toward Agway Drive and then Shoppingtown Mall where we stopped to share the Elevating Erie Team’s hopes and dreams for the mall.  Stay tuned!

Shoppingtown Mall, DeWitt NY

Shoppingtown Mall, DeWitt NY

Dark clouds were starting to gather overhead, so we pressed on towards East Genesee Street.  The Erie Boulevard section in DeWitt presents daunting obstacles to cyclists: it has six lanes of traffic, absolutely zero bike lanes, and limited sidewalk infrastructure, so we zigzagged our way between Shoppingtown and East Genesee Street.  There, we linked up with the existing bike lane (which is marked by official Canalway Trail Signage) which would take us safely to downtown Syracuse.  So far, everything was progressing as smoothly as we could have hoped for.  BUT THEN…

No sooner had we started down East Genesee, it began to rain, a drizzle which quickly turned into a torrential downpour, rocking our bikes with high winds and thick sheets of water.  We were forced to take shelter from the storm under a tree.  But it was no use.  The rain intensified, drenching our clothes, backpacks, and shoes.  Just when we thought we had seen the worst of it, it began to hail.  All of a sudden, we were pelted with chunks of ice as big around as a pencil head. 

As quickly as the rain and hail started, it ended, giving way to a sky filled with beautiful purple clouds and beams of sunshine peeking through, creating a rainbow at street level.  The steam rising from the warm pavement added to the otherworldly nature of this scene, its eerie beauty an awe-inspiring sight to behold.  We continued on, enjoying the cool breeze and warming rays of sunlight which quickly began to dry our waterlogged gear.

From East Genesee Street, we cut over to East Water Street just outside of Downtown Syracuse.  Here, we stopped to recuperate and wring out our drenched clothing.  The storm had completely passed over at this point, and we were in the free and clear.

East Water Street Rest Stop, Syracuse NY

East Water Street Rest Stop, Syracuse NY

Next, we ventured into Downtown Syracuse through Clinton Square, carefully avoiding parked cars and cross traffic along the way.  Here, we stopped to discuss the potential of Downtown Syracuse as a bicycle tourist destination.  Closing the Erie Canal Trail gap between DeWitt and Camillus will play a key role in attracting new businesses, residents, and bicycle culture related activities to the community, providing the impetus for a whole new era of development along Erie Boulevard, and hopefully the rest of Syracuse.

Clinton Square, Downtown Syracuse NY

Clinton Square, Downtown Syracuse NY

The next stretch of the trip was the longest and took us all the way out to the Town of Camillus.  By this time we had unfortunately lost a couple of riders due to a flat tire and torrential downpours.  Our original group of 13 was now 7.  Despite these setbacks, we were determined to move forward.  Along the way, we viewed Onondaga County’s Bridge Street reconstruction project in Solvay.  This infrastructure project is meant to improve sidewalk connections to the State Fair Grounds as part of the greater Erie Canalway Trail project.

Wasting no time, we continued on down along the Erie Canal to the Sims Store Museum, admiring the beautifully restored 9 Mile Creek Aqueduct.  You can practically feel the history of this location.  It takes you back to a time in which the Erie Canal was the largest and most important travel network in New York State.  While we did not have time for a full Sims Store museum tour, we still managed to meet with the operators, David and Liz Beebe.  The view was spectacular with all the old canalway barges, boat houses, and wildlife that call the Erie Canal home.

Sims Store Museum, Camillus NY

Sims Store Museum, Camillus NY

At this point, we were all pretty hungry, so we said goodbye to David and Liz, and headed over to Krabby Kirk’s Saloon for dinner.  Krabby Kirk’s offers a distinct Southern BBQ style menu filled with different catfish, chicken, pulled pork, and beef options.  Needless to say, we ate very well that night. 

Krabby Kirk's Saloon, Camillus NY

Krabby Kirk's Saloon, Camillus NY

At around 8:30, we unlocked our bikes, crossed the street, and piled them into the back of the trailer provided by Erie Canal Bike Tours.  We piled into the back of the shuttle where Diane Kolifrath from Erie Canal Bike Tours was waiting for us.  After such a long ride, it was nice to kick up our feet and relax.  The return ride back to DeWitt was full of lively conversation about Erie Canal Bike Tours, a start up bike tours company which operates all along the Erie Canal Trail.  They provide shuttle services and bike touring packages for groups of all ages.  Do not miss their spectacular Fourth of July Celebration Event called Water Music NY, a seven day musical event that is part of the Erie Canal Bicentennial Celebration!  It is sure to be an unforgettable event.

We arrived back in DeWitt at 9:20 pm where we parted ways.  This was a fantastic adventure and learning experience for us all at Elevating Erie.  We hope you will join us for our next bicycle trip!  Don’t forget, Elevating Erie is also hosting the Tuesdays on the Towpath ride on July 18th at 6:00 pm.  This ride will focus on Elevating Erie’s efforts to restore elements of the historical canal corridor in DeWitt.  We can’t wait to see you there!

 

 

Tuesdays on the Towpath: DeWitt 8-10 Mile Bike Ride!

Tuesday, July 18th     Starts at 6:00pm

Meet and end at Wegmans 6789 E Genesee Street Fayetteville NY 13066.  This bike ride begins and ends at Wegmans Parking Lot on East Genesee Street, near the Butternut Creek Trailhead.

This family-friendly bike ride will feature a mix of on-road and trail riding. The 8-10 mile route* will showcase Elevating Erie project sites in the Town of DeWitt including Towpath Road and the Widewaters Pond site! We’ll also be travelling the beautiful Orvileton Feeder Canal before heading back to Wegmans for a quick bite to eat.

Helmets are required to participate. Register with Chris Manchester, cmanchester@townofdewitt.com

This event is part of the Tuesdays on the Towpath guided bike series which is sponsored by the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum.

*The final route details are in progress.

Recording your Story with City Lore's Molly Garfinkel

Molly Garfinkel loves conserving the culture and history of urban landscapes

Molly Garfinkel loves conserving the culture and history of urban landscapes

Wednesday, June 21         Starts at 12pm        Meet at the DeWitt Town Hall

Help us Span the Gap!

By contributing to Elevating Erie: Spanning the Gap, a collaborative, community-based public art and advocacy project between the Town of DeWitt and City Lore, New York City's @Urban Folklife Center. At the heart of Elevating Erie is a mission to unite the community through story and idea sharing - and this project provides a new platform to do so!

Part oral history project, part art installation, SPANNING THE GAP wants to include YOUR stories, memories, folktales, and aspirations for the future of the existing 15-mile gap in the Erie Canalway Trail that spans across Syracuse from Camillus to DeWitt, as well as how the gap came to be.

Join City Lore's Molly Garfinkel at a story recording session to share your traditions, stories, and ideas! We'll be recording stories and thoughts to inspire sculptural markers for both ends of the Gap. Selected stories will also be included on our forthcoming Spanning the Gap webpage

Wednesday, June 21st
DeWitt Town Hall
Noon to 5pm

To schedule a Spanning the Gap video recording session with Molly, please email molly@citylore.org or call 410-978-6611.

Elevating Erie-"Spanning the Gap" 15 Mile Bike Ride

Tuesday, June 20th

This special ride leaves DeWitt at 4:00pm

Meet at the Erie Canalway Trail Head on Butternut Drive adjacent to DeWitt Town Hall

Join Sam Gordon, Town of DeWitt Director of Planning and Zoning, and Molly Garfinkel of City Lore to traverse the infamous “gap” in the Erie Canalway trail between DeWitt and Camillus.  This ride is not for the faint of heart. While not a vigorous ride, it will be all on-road focusing on the challenges faced by cyclists commuting between DeWitt and Camillus. The ride is roughly 15 miles travelling through Syracuse’s historic downtown. Upon arriving at the Erie Canal Park, a trip into the Sims Store Museum is a must.  After visiting the museum, we will gather at Krabby Kirks BBQ before heading back home. This particular ride is a Special Edition of the Tuesdays on the Towpath rides and is catered to more experienced cyclists. If it fits your comfort level, this will be an engaging ride and an opportunity to learn about efforts underway to close the gap in this section of the Erie Canalway Trail.  At the end of the experience, complimentary shuttle service back to DeWitt will be provided by Erie Canal Bike Tours leaving Camillus at 8:00pm. Of course, you are welcome to arrange your own transportation as well.  This is a group ride and best suited to those comfortable riding on busier roads. This ride is not suitable for young children. Bike helmets are required to participate. Please register with cmanchester@townofdewitt.com.

Announcing Elevating Erie: SPANNING THE GAP

Announcing Elevating Erie: SPANNING THE GAP

Elevating Erie's "Spanning the Gap" kickoff event is coming up Wednesday, 2/15/17! Come to learn about the Erie Canalway Trail's infamous "gap" between Camillus and DeWitt New York, and share your stories about the present, past, or future of these 15 miles across Syracuse. This aspirational project is designed to synthesize the great stories of the Canalway's history into an engaging public art installation for local & visiting trail users.