Syracuse leaders listen to Walt Dixie’s plan to ‘shake it up’ and revive poor areas


Syracuse, NY – Walt Dixie has a plan. On the surface, the executive director of Jubilee Homes is proposing several projects to help revitalize the disaster areas of southwest Syracuse.

Build new houses. Develop affordable apartments. Create a new vocational training center.

But below the surface there is more.

The way Dixie plans to tackle these projects – partnering with minority developers and entrepreneurs in Boston, Baltimore and Chicago – reveals a longer-term goal of changing the way urban revitalization is done. in Syracuse.

Dixie aims to disrupt the status quo by working with out-of-town companies that promise to give disadvantaged workers and minority contractors a greater share of the local development work than in the past.

“These companies are going to shake it up a bit,” Dixie said.

And not just on the southwest side. Dixie says the Jubilee Homes plan can lay the groundwork for the future.

The ultimate price – to contractors and the community as a whole – is $ 2 billion or more in construction that will begin when Interstate 81 is rebuilt. Syracuse is expected to have a pipeline of workers and minority businesses ready that day, Dixie said. He says Jubilee Homes can help make this happen.

the Jubilee houses economic development plan would require millions of dollars in government grants. It calls for dozens of new single-family homes and apartments, as well as commercial development. It remains to be seen whether the Dixie group can obtain this type of investment.

It’s an ambitious quest for a small nonprofit like Jubilee. But other community groups like the Urban Jobs Task Force, long frustrated with the lack of job opportunities in Syracuse’s poor neighborhoods, are interested in what Dixie has to say.

“It seems they are thinking of all the right things,” said Deka Dancil, chairman of the task force.

Dixie and Jubilee Homes will present their plan today to city leaders, community groups and the public at 6 p.m. at the Southwest Community Center.

In the short term, the plan focuses on three projects:

  • Two new single-family homes that Jubilee will build in the 400 block of Martin Luther King West.
  • A 60-unit Jubilee building is hoping to develop on the 600 block of South Avenue, across from the Price-Rite supermarket.
  • A mixed-use building that would include up to 20 apartments and a workforce training center on the ground floor. No site has yet been confirmed.

Jubilee Homes also helped a New Jersey entrepreneur secure funding to open a new seafood restaurant in the old B&B Lounge on South Avenue. The restaurant is not yet ready to open, but Seafood Haven will take care of a $ 65 per head fundraising event for Jubilee Homes Wednesday at the group’s Urban Delights Garden, 112 Bellevue Ave.

Longer term, Jubilee aims to build up to 70 new single-family homes on the south and west sides and a similar number of affordable apartments, Dixie said. Each single-family home would require a grant of $ 130,000 or more, Jubilee estimates.

The Greater Syracuse Land Bank, which manages the properties obtained through the city’s tax foreclosure, holds 30 vacant lots for Jubilee Homes. The land bank will provide more properties if Jubilee can finance additional construction later, said Katelyn Wright, executive director.

As more federal funds flow to communities, now is the right time for organizations like Jubilee to develop ambitious plans for neighborhood development, Wright said.

“It’s an opportunity to do something that will really change the market in these neighborhoods,” Wright said. “We think this is a great opportunity to sketch out a vision of what the community wants to happen and see if we can make it happen.”

Jubilee Homes has seven employees and has experienced financial difficulties at times. The group almost went bankrupt seven years ago.

But city hall officials and housing agencies, including Housing Visions, the Greater Syracuse Land Bank and others, say they are generally supportive of the new initiative.

“When they’re going to get money from the state or the federal government, we go with them as a partner,” said Greg Loh, city policy director.

A Boston company

One of the first brick-and-mortar projects in the Jubilee Plan is to build a 60-unit apartment building on South Avenue across from the Price-Rite supermarket that Jubilee developed in 2017. Jubilee plans to partner with Trinity Financial, a minority-owned Boston multi-family housing developer.

Trinity will hand over at least half of the construction work to minority and female-owned contractors, Dixie said. The company also promises to sign a community benefits agreement with Jubilee Homes, guaranteeing financial support for local efforts such as youth programs, he said.

A second project is to build or renovate a mixed-use structure to include affordable apartments and a ground-floor training center which will be operated by Jubilee. The sites are still under review, Dixie said.

Housing Visions has agreed to undertake the development, pending state funding, said Ben Lockwood, president and CEO. Housing Visions also plans to build a dozen duplex apartment buildings in partnership with Jubilee, he said.

Baltimore and Chicago businesses

Dixie said Jubilee will operate the training center in partnership with CNI, Inc., of Baltimore, a company that has developed a workforce training program as part of a revitalization strategy it calls “Equation EquationCNI, which does the demolition and construction, is also reportedly seeking contracts in Syracuse, including work related to the I-81 project, said Pless Jones Jr., a managing member.

Jubilee Homes also plans to partner with Bowa construction, from Chicago, a construction company. Dixie said Bowa was well positioned to be a contract manager for a large development project and could facilitate the participation of minority contractors.

Each of the three companies has expressed willingness to help fund community groups in Syracuse, Dixie said. Given the uncertainty of government financial support, this is important for local groups, including Jubilee, he said.

“The beautiful thing about it is that all of these companies are willing to make that investment in the organization because you need organizations like ours to do this (job),” Dixie said.

Dancil, the volunteer leader of the Urban Jobs Task Force, said she wanted more details on what out-of-town companies would commit to for local hiring, training and community benefits. She was frustrated after years of trying to get local builders and developers to support minority subcontractors.

“Unfortunately, after a decade of advocacy, we have found that the great white general contractors that we have here, no one has been willing to prioritize local hiring and (minority) capacity building,” a- she declared. “It looks like these entrepreneurs (from out of town) will be ready to do it.”

Dixie made contact with the three companies through New York lobbyist Carl Andrews, a former state senator with whom he has a long friendship.

“He just knows people,” Dixie said.

In June, Dixie lost a candidate for city council, his first candidacy for political office. But he carries a lot of weight. County manager Ryan McMahon donated $ 1,000 to his campaign, for example. And Dixie recently hired Syracuse General Counsel Rita Paniagua as the Economic Development Project Coordinator.

For now, the first project on Jubilee’s agenda is to build two new single-family homes on the 400 block of Martin Luther King West. The city of Syracuse will help subsidize homes as part of Mayor Ben Walsh’s Resurgent Neighborhoods initiative.

Dixie said he hopes to find funds to build at least 70 homes on vacant lots on the south and west sides.

More generally, Dixie is attempting to reposition Jubilee Homes as a new version of the Urban League, to help create economic opportunity in Syracuse’s long neglected poor neighborhoods.

“We’re sending a message to the community, you should join us, be with us,” he said. “Let’s be one of the anchor points to understand this. Because I’m going to find out. ”

Do you have a topical tip or an idea for a story? Contact reporter Tim Knauss of Post-Standard: E-mail | Twitter | | 315-470-3023.

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