Meeting Minutes – July 13, 2021

City of Syracuse Heritage Park Advisory Commission

Meeting Minutes

July 13, 2021

The first in-person meeting of the Commission began at 3:30pm in the Bevard Room of the Onondaga County Civic Center with an Acknowledgement Statement recognizing the Onondagas as the original peoples of this land and introductions. 

Introduction. A Commission Member (CM) began the discussion about the importance of gathering Community Input now that the website and the “Request for Community Input” form have been developed and approved. It was noted that the “request for Community Input” can be adapted to particular Stakeholder Groups, as it was for the Onondaga Nation newspaper at the request of a CM. The “Request” is in the current edition of the Nation Newspaper with instructions to send responses through the website, The Commission will have until around the end of August, 2021 to gather the Community Input. At that point, RFP development and educational content development will begin.

Community Input. We have already received responses, with more expected, and OHA is developing a sample of what the educational component will consist of based on some of those responses. Once that example has been vetted, it will be available on the website. A CM recounted their experience in gathering community input and the general positive responses to the project and to their ability to provide feedback and input. They found the community engagement to be robust and energetic.

The Management Team will be reaching out to CM’s to provide assistance in gathering Community Input and can provide the “Request” forms in hardcopy and we will be available for any in-person meetings you might want to have. OHA will begin accumulating, sorting, and organizing the responses in the process of developing a final list of words and phrases that encompass both the contributions and the oppression.

The question was raised regarding who would develop the educational content and it was confirmed that OHA, in collaboration with other experts in particular fields, would develop the content according to existing historical scholarship standards. It was explained that historical scholarship is a conversation based on evidence and disciplinary standards that takes into consideration all of the perspectives in the community. The content will be vetted by the respective CM responsible for that Stakeholder Group before it is included in the park content and related delivery mechanisms, such as the website.

Website.  The meeting progressed to a final review of the website that had been provided to the Commission prior to being released publicly. We reviewed the site’s design, logo, images and text page-by-page. All of the text had been previously provided to CM’s and their comments/suggestions were incorporated into the final versions that appear on the website.

The website was approved by the Commission, which agreed that it was ready to be released publicly. The Management Team will begin the process of promoting the site.

Discussion.  A CM requested more clarity in the Commission’s messaging regarding the status of the Columbus Statue in relation to Heritage Park. It was recognized that Heritage Park can and will exist whether the statue is there or not. The concern over connecting the statue, or the fate of the statue, to Heritage Park is that the real purpose of Heritage Park as a social justice and community healing project can get overshadowed by the controversy that involves Columbus and the statue. A CM confirmed that it is the city’s intent to relocate, and preserve, the statue and related statuary.

However, CM’s expressed that it is important to note that the controversy over the statue was the catalyst for the community dialogues, discussions, and Action Group recommendations that gave rise to Heritage Park, and that the mayor has decided to remove the statue and other elements from the monument. The mayor is confident in the city’s ability to prevail in the current legal attempt to prevent the removal of the statue. The reality is that the issue is now in the hands of the courts and both parties have pledged to appeal the decision that will be rendered at the end of October.

It was recognized that the recommendations for the current monument footprint, which is dedicated to the Italian American story of oppression and contributions, is the responsibility of the Italian American Task Force (IATF). They are currently exploring a potential home for any removed monument elements, as well as the potential modification of the existing monument. In that regard, they are following the same procedure as the Commission in gathering Community Input and preparing for a possible RFP development. As a Stakeholder Group, they will also have input regarding the educational content that will interpret the Italian American story and the history of the monument as part of Heritage Park.

It was recommended by a CM that, instead focusing on that part of Heritage Park as the “Columbus Circle” part of the park, we should focus on it as the “Italian American” part of Heritage Park, since that also more accurately describes the role of that part of the park in the bigger vision for the space. It was agreed that was an excellent solution and the CM offered to help the Management Team refine the messaging in that regard.

Arts and Crafts Fair and use of Heritage Park Space.  The Commission discussed the current uses of the Heritage Park space, specifically on the Arts & Crafts Festival, the general business and residential districts’ use, and the Catholic Diocese’s use in front of the Cathedral. CM’s spoke to those specific uses and there was a general discussion of future use to keep in mind as we develop parameters for the RFP. In general, we want to assure continued ability to use the space as it is used currently by Stakeholders and to accommodate both a contemplative peaceful place as well as a place where we can gather as a community for events like the return of the Festival of Nations. The CM also made note of the desire to be able to continue to see the surrounding buildings from the park space, which are distinctive for their architectural and historical significance.

A CM asked for more clarity on the expected recipients of the RFP and our use of the term “artists”. It was agreed that the term “artists” is to be considered in its broadest sense to include architects, designers, exhibit and monument developers, etc.

It was confirmed that the Commission will be asked to provide feedback on the RFP responses and recommend to the Management Team. It will be a confidential review by the CM’s. That process is expected to happen beginning in early December.

Site Walkthrough.  The Commission then went on a physical walk-through of the Heritage Park site to become familiar with the defined borders. Though Onondaga Street cuts through the middle of the space, it cannot be moved and does provide a natural division between the two parts of the park. It was noted that the mass of trees on the Powelson Site was meant to reflect that a building would re-occupy that site to create urban density.  It was also noted that the landscape can not only help incorporate the street (Onondaga Street) and reflect the park themes (by using native medicinal plants, for example) but properly placed trees can help create a feeling of density while also providing shade.

CM’s confirmed that the large mural on the Diocese buildings adjacent to the Heritage Park site could be amended (added to) to more accurately reflect our community’s diversity. It was mentioned that it could be a great project for a local artist and would help emphasize the general themes of Heritage Park.

We viewed the beautiful gardens of the Cathedral and discussed the incorporation of that space as a quiet contemplative space adjacent to Heritage Park, as well as the extension of some of the landscape elements into the park itself. A potential “Friends of Heritage Park” group could be organized to help maintain Heritage Park’s landscape.

The meeting was adjourned at 5:00pm.

These minutes respectfully submitted to the Heritage Park Advisory Commission by a Commission Member