South Side contractor Eli Smith, right, is part of the Salina 1st LLC development team with Emanuel Henderson and Gail Montplaisir.

Intentional Investment

Salina 1st LLC holds groundbreaking on new South Side development

Armed with shovels, smiles and dreams of a revitalized South Salina Street, dignitaries and developers broke ground May 22 on a $6.8 million mixed-use complex in the shadow of downtown. Backers say the project, located near South Salina and Burt streets, will include commercial, residential, light industrial and office spaces and be a first step toward spreading downtown’s successes into the economically stressed area to the south.

Salina 1st LLC, as the development has been dubbed, was the product of a two-and-half year public-private collaboration, but the road to the groundbreaking was far longer in historical terms.

“Unfortunately this is the first all-minority commercial development in the history of Syracuse,” said Eli Smith, a South Side contractor who is part of the development team along with Emanuel Henderson and Gail Montplaisir.

While some might dispute whether that’s technically the case, there’s no question that a dearth of minority investment in the South Side and other communities has fed a cycle of poverty and malaise. That track record contrasted with the groundbreaking ceremony, which featured a happy crowd of about 100 people under a sunny sky and a sense that local leaders finally grasp the importance of empowering distressed neighborhoods to shape their destinies.

“Something magical is happening in Syracuse,” CenterState CEO Rob Simpson said, asserting  there’s “a psychological change” underway.

If there was a cautionary note to the gala, it was that minority-led developments in minority communities must be supported by the people who live there, or else what’s the point?

“When people invest in our neighborhoods, we have to invest in them,” urged Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens.

Her point was echoed by Montplaisir, who spoke of a “full circle approach” that will work anywhere, not just in Syracuse, if people get behind it.

“It has to come from people who come from the community, who understand it and who have rejected the narrative of poverty,” she said.

The project was born when Smith and Montplaisir met at a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program at Babson College near Boston.  Both were in construction and related fields. They bonded and later formed the Salina 1st LLC team with Henderson. No completion date for construction has been given, said Victoria Coit, a spokeswoman with the project.

Jeff Kramer is a columnist for The Stand. He has written newspaper columns for many, many years in Syracuse and elsewhere. To contact him with story ideas, call (315) 420-2619 or email

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