Keyword Site Search

For nearly two centuries, historic Clinton Square in Syracuse, New York has been the focus of public attention. Whether it was the shipping or unloading of cargo from Erie Canal barges, ceremonial events, the circus, parades or memorial services, Syracuse has always looked to the square as its public gathering space. Its evolution has been dramatic as it spanned 200 years of continual change. The first hundred years found the square serving as the strategic center of an upstate transportation network of rudimentary roads, railroads and inland canals. Clinton Square became the active commercial hub for merchandise delivered by barges on the prospering Erie Canal that cut directly through the square on its way westward. Hotels, banks and public buildings quite naturally appeared there bordering the square as a result of this expanding commercial activity. From 1906 to 1910, a 70 feet high stone monument with bronze statuary was erected on the northern half of the square to honor the local Civil War veterans. Ever since it's dedication day in September 1910, this imposing, historic form has been the prominent focal point of the square. When interest in the Erie Canal waned in the early 1900's because of newer and better modes of nsportation, the old Erie Canal and basin area in Clinton Square was filled in and paved creating a large, prominent open space. This space was quickly taken over by the new mode of transportation - the automobile. Soon thereafter, a major east-west road, Erie Boulevard was constructed in the now defunct Erie Canal right-of-way, effectively splitting Clinton Square into two north-south segments of unequal sizes. The 1940's saw the square evolve into a more park-like setting with several individual islands of lawns and plantings and even some small classic fountains. Despite the physical splitting of the square by either canal or roadway, the square still functioned as a special public gathering space to honor and celebrate all manner of occasions. In the late 1970's, the Urban Renewal movement indirectly forced the City to seriously seek redevelopment efforts for Clinton Square. A new cascading fountain design with an integral depressed sitting area was constructed incorporating a few of the original canal wall capstones to create a mild historic overtone. This new design soon found disfavor with the public however, because of its inherent maintenance problems, accessibility issues, and a general uncomfortable feeling with its depressed sitting area. Over time, skateboarders and illicit activities only compounded the growing unattractiveness of the space. Then, after years of local political and historical discussion on what should be done with the square, now seriously deteriorated, the decision was finally made in 1999 to once again redevelop Clinton Square. Only this time, the change would truly be dramatic and unifying. Revitalizing the Area Since the filling of the Erie Canal in the 1920's, the old channel right-of-way had served as a predominant, continuous traffic corridor through Central New York that physically split the Square. To accomplish the goal of recapturing the entire space for public use, a strategic one-block section of the major East-West arterial through downtown was closed allowing the Square to once again be designed as a unified public space. A series of traffic studies indicated that an efficient rerouting of traffic around the Square would not significantly impact either normal or rush hour traffic movements. They in effect validated the decision to pursue the redevelopment of Clinton Square. Having all the prerequisites of traffic concerns, funding sources and a design consultant in place, the design contract was finally awarded in early March of 2000, to Clough, Harbour & Associates (CHA), a multi-disciplined transportation, engineering, landscape architectural and planning firm. They were immediately challenged by the City of Syracuse in completing the design portion of the project on a fast-track schedule. This meant that all programming, stakeholder interviews, public participation sessions, design reports for funding agencies and their subsequent approvals, the final design, and contract documents would have to be completed by October of 2000. Collaborating on a Dream Clough, Harbour & Associates, LLP began the design process began with a nearly continuous series of meetings with the City to quickly establish strategic deadlines and a "Wish List" of probable elements to be included in the Square. Syracuse's Director of Operations, Joseph Nicoletti was the City's energetic and enthusiastic coordinator for the project and the Mayor's liaison. Each of the City's Commissioners also participated in a significant way identifying their specific needs relative to public services and maintenance issues. Interviews of 'stakeholders' (both City and private directors/coordinators of public events), the individual requirements of state agencies and political directives comprised the early list. As each public session was held and comments received, the "Wish List" was re-evaluated in conjunction with the established budget and relative to our design principles. It was from these meetings that the core concept of the Clinton Square renovation project was established: To utilize the Square's historic legacy through creating a unified design that exhibits a special versatility in accommodating a large variety of public events. Central to the concept was creating a dynamic, dual-purpose space for the primary visual elements - an integral fountain/reflecting pool and an outdoor ice skating rink for Syracuse's long winter season. Summertime public activities in Clinton Square include concerts, exhibitions, festivals, celebrations and as a passive pedestrian space. In its non-event mode, the square would become an informal, public focal point of aesthetic and historical interest. During the long Central New York winters, the reflecting pool would become an open-air ice skating facility - much the same as it was over a hundred years ago. A significant portion of the design challenge was to create a public space that could quickly be converted from a purely aesthetic one to a multi-use public activity space for summer events. Very early in the design process, CHA established three design principles to guide the design and thought processes throughout the project. "Simple, Elegant and Timeless" became the watch-words of the project. These principles became an invaluable aid as benchmarks in critiquing and evaluating early design concepts and addressing pertinent community issues. Unlike previous plaza projects, the City desired that the public have the opportunity to express ideas and opinions through a series of public participation sessions as the design concept was formulated and refined. To help meet this requirement and the critical time schedule, CHA sought the expertise of an outside consultant, Howard/Stein-Hudson, public participation specialists from New York City. They were selected to develop and coordinate the accelerated public meeting schedule and strategize the complex presentation issues. To ensure that everyone in the Syracuse area had an opportunity to comment on the project, a specific Internet web site was even created to provide the public with updated information about all aspects of the project. Comments and opinions were monitored daily and responded to within 24 hours. As graphic concept images became available they were routinely added to the site for public response. Working With State Agencies Given the magnitude of historic and traffic impacts associated with the Square's redevelopment, two state agencies had significant influences on the final design. Since the square's redesign would interrupt a state highway, the NYS Department of Transportation would become involved as a design review agency and as a major funding source for the project. Similarly, given the great historic state and national legacy of the square, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) would also be a primary partner in the process. SHPO oversees and emphatically directs any and all modifications to historic sites across New York State. CHA contacted the agency early in the initial stages of design to get their historic assessment position and a list of probable impacts to the project. It was determined that in addition to preservation measures for the remaining historic canal prism stone walls lying just beneath the road surfaces, restoration of the 70 foot tall Soldier's and Sailor's civil war monument was needed. Decades of severe weathering at the monument's top and serious deterioration of the bronze statuary called for immediate attention. Earlier attempts at the monument's restoration had been marginal at best. To ensure this restoration was correctly made, a local historical restoration consultant Randy Crawford was contracted to prescribe precise corrective measures and oversee the proper restoration and reconstruction methodology for the monument. SHPO's involvement resulted in the strict adherence to maintaining the appropriate historical visual character of Clinton Square. The original canal and basin outline would have to be retained for historical reference and context. Because of two major historic view sheds diagonally crossing the square, the infringement of permanent vertical objects, such as columns, banner poles and new, modern "sculptural" elements were totally restricted. Typically each of the state review agencies require a years worth of effort for preparing design reports, submission reviews and final approvals. Again, early contacts with them to establish a working relationship based on the accelerated schedule and discussing the tentative program elements and their associated impacts, reaped time-saving rewards in the end. Approvals which should taken a year to secure, had taken only 8 months. Utility Infrastructure It is not hard to imagine a project of this magnitude with its rich historic legacy being encumbered by utility corridors. Located on the north edge of Syracuse's major downtown area, Clinton Square has served as a pivotal point for utility services criss-crossing north-south and east- west since even the early days of the Erie Canal. So it was no real surprise that four major utility trunk lines had to be acknowledged and addressed during the early design stages. From the stakeholder interviews, CHA learned that the required power supply for the Square's events would be substantial. Staged performances with the accompanying sound, lighting and concession venues along with power demands from the fountain pumps and refrigeration equipment would require a 2000 amp service. To avoid the typical, large, above grade 'green box' for power distribution seen in the former square's design, granite cloaked power pedestals were specially designed to reflect the style and character of the four existing light pedestals surrounding the Soldier's & Sailor's monument. Early in the design concept stages, CHA quickly realized that because Clinton Square is a relatively small space, and every square foot is precious, historically sensitive and highly programmed, an above ground utility room would not be possible. The final decision to include an underground utility vault placed heavier demands on the already tight construction budget but forced an economy of savings in the constraints of utilizing existing available underground access corridors. Earlier damages to the buried canal walls provided convenient but constrained openings for new conduit runs. An enormous complex of utilities all originating in the vault - water supply lines for the fountain and lawn irrigation system, refrigerant conduits, electric services, and a major return water flume from the reflecting pool - were compressed through two existing wall openings. These constraints forced CHA to look hard at the efficiency of combining utility corridors and their layout. The Power of Water The old functioning Erie Canal channel and basin (collectively called the "canal prism") in Clinton Square was basically a static body of water. Even though the canal was purely utilitarian, it had a certain aesthetic appeal as it mirrored its surroundings. For this reason SHPO required that the entire canal prism be outlined in its correct historic alignment complete with the 10-foot wide towpath on the north edge for obvious interpretive reasons. They also insisted that whatever material was selected as the base for the reflecting pool within the prism area, it must be homogeneous. Old historic photographs of the former Clinton Square turned us on to the idea of flooding the canal prism to the extent possible to replicate the historic outline and reflective quality of the former canal. But this approach had its problems: If the water was too deep, it would become a maintenance nightmare and perhaps even become a substantial safety liability for the city. Deeper water would also restrict a rapid draining to prepare for scheduled events. If the water was too shallow, the natural heat gain might make the water temperature too hot without adequate recirculation. Eventually it was determined that a shallower pool with a 4-inch depth would be the most efficient design and accommodate all the programming needs. The type of fountain to be selected was also an issue. Since no fountain of any type ever existed in or near the Erie Canal and the very presence of one would violate the historic view shed principle, SHPO was reluctant to allow any fountain within the square. With suggestions provided by the fountain design consultant, Dan Euser, of Dan Euser WaterArchitecture Inc., SHPO reconsidered the fountain idea and, based on the placement and form of the proposed fountain, it was agreed that a large, linear fountain, not in the main historic canal channel alignment, would be acceptable. Following the mutual agreement came the critical decision about the proper scale for the fountain within the new and expanded spatial context of the square. With the location and its linear form determined, it became a matter of selecting the most visually appealing water display. The final design became an array of 119 individual fountain heads aligned along the east-west axis of the canal prism forming a simple, animated wall of water nearly 80-feet long and 18-feet high. To add an aesthetic energy and dynamic to the square, seven manifolds of spray heads were created capable of being programmed to modulate a balanced animation of varying heights. Alternating, angled spray jets were placed in the central 24-feet of the array offering a further visual dynamic. Currently, the fountain is programmed with about 30 different sequences that are displayed for most of the day. During the midday lunch hour, patrons of the cafe area are treated to a static vertical spray pattern that creates a visual water screen and noise buffer from the busy traffic arterial to the north. The linear fountain occupies the center of an 84-foot long isolated concrete island or 'fountain trench' in the middle of the surrounding 17,000 square foot reflecting pool. It functions as the overflow drain, large debris catcher and depth regulator for the pool basin. Treated water returns to an underground cooling reservoir integrally attached to the underground utility vault via a large flume. The fountain trench width was proportionally designed to allow the jetted water to fall directly back into the trench without disturbing the surrounding pool surface. Cooled water is pumped to header pipes parallel with the north and south sides of the simulated granite canal walls. The water is pumped out with considerable pressure through a series of perforations and forced through a 1-inch high opening under the granite perimeter stones creating two opposing, invisible sheets of recirculating water that eliminates any disturbance on the pool surface. This creates the very aesthetically pleasing reflective quality of the space. This past winter saw the opening of ice skating in Clinton Square - the first time in nearly 100 years. Opening almost a month later than planned due to the usually warm fall/early winter season, the skating venue turned out to be a tremendous success. The mayor has stated that because of its great popularity, a variety of other complimentary activities are being planned and scheduled for next season. The square can also accommodate spontaneous ceremonial needs. Just three weeks after the rededication ceremony of Clinton Square, the site hosted another special event remembering the innocent victims and honoring the fallen police and firefighters of the Sept. 11, 2001 World Trade Center tragedy. Special red, white, and blue lights were installed in the fountain lighting system almost immediately after the attack as a special show of support and patriotism by Central New Yorkers. "[This] project has been a tremendous success and is an exceptional example of our commitment to livable communities in the City of Syracuse, " said former Mayor, Roy Bernardi, who initiated the overall redevelopment of Clinton Square. Visitors and residents alike can experience the square's simple, elegant and timeless character as they shop, work, gather and recreate all within walking distance. The site is a great example of a very successful public space. About the Author: Melvin L. Moore, formerly with Clough, Harbour & Associates, LLP, is a Landscape Architect located in Tully, N.Y. hello

Related Stories

October 20, 2019, 6:00 pm PDT

Website problems, report a bug.
Copyright © 2019 Landscape Communications Inc.
Privacy Policy