By Connie Berry
Msgr. Neal Quartier loves living in downtown Syracuse. In fact, he’s president of the Cathedral Square Development Corp. and an active member of the Cathedral Square Neighborhood Association. As rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Father Quartier lives in the very heart of the neighborhood.
“It’s a great place to be. I’ve lived here for 30 years,” Father Quartier said.
The goal of the organizations is to bring residential life to the area and new businesses as well. Father Quartier explained that they are trying to revitalize the neighborhood surrounding the Cathedral and Columbus Circle. The official name of the neighborhood, which covers roughly five blocks, is Cathedral Square. The neighborhood features civic buildings, restaurants, shops, the YMCA, the Onondaga Historical Association, as well as several places of worship. Father Quartier said the idea of breathing new life into the community was born at the dining room table at the Cathedral. There he has met with leaders of Plymouth Congregational, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Park Central Presbyterian and others and the conversation led to how they could combine services into one location serving the neighborhood ecumenically. The food pantries and the Amaus Clinic, legal services and other community programs would be housed together. Currently, Father Quartier said, they are looking for space to accommodate all the services. Father Quartier said the organizations could save revenue by combining their resources.
“One of the prime purposes of the non-profit development corporation is to bring businesses and community together to look at uses for the vacant buildings,” Father Quartier explained.
There has been an attempt at bringing people downtown by offering renovated apartments in some of the historical buildings. According to www.downtownsyracuse.com, there are about 2,500 residents living downtown. There are more than a dozen banks, several restaurants and shops, as well as an interest in bringing a grocery store into the neighborhood. The CNY Jazz Arts Foundation, the Cultural Resources Council, the Everson Museum, the Syracuse Opera Company and several other cultural entities call downtown home.
This spring the Cathedral will be part of the downtown living tour taking place Saturday, May 21, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The event is an outdoor festival where people can get acquainted with all the downtown neighborhoods have to offer. There will be live music inside and tours of the Cathedral, as well as booths set up around Columbus Circle outside the Cathedral. It’s the first time the Cathedral has been part of the event.
Billed “the newest oldest neighborhood in the city,” Cathedral Square features outstanding architecture and historical significance bringing together, as the brochure says, “living, learning, the arts, and service with so much style and grace that it might catch you by surprise.” Father Quartier said the organization has met with the mayor and city officials to look at ways to address the vacant buildings, parking, zoning and other issues. He said he has found them to be very open to both the neighborhood association and the development corporation. “We really want to work together to help redevelop the neighborhood,” he said.
There is an obvious reason why bringing people to the neighborhood is important for church leaders — it means more people in their churches, Father Quartier said.
Paul Drotar is business administrator at the Cathedral. He said when the late Msgr. Joseph Champlin hired him at the Cathedral, he was a little weary of coming downtown to work every day. “It’s really very nice, though,” he said. “You would be surprised at how many apartments there are downtown. With the economic downturn it has been slow going, but there is strength in numbers.”