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Onondaga County lawmakers take step to purchase land for aquarium

An open, grassy waterfront lot with pick-up truck and mound of dirt in the distance.
Scott Willis
A grassy lot considered for a future aquarium stretches from Solar Street toward the Bear Street bridge over Onondaga Creek, Syracuse N.Y., May 16, 2023.

Onondaga County lawmakers took the first step Tuesday toward acquiring the property needed to build an aquarium planned for Syracuse’s Inner Harbor. 

The county is proposing to purchase the property from owner COR Development for just over $1.7 million. The money comes from a previously approved $85 million allocation for the project.

A sign on the 4.7 acre lot adjacent to the former barge canal on Solar Street advertises that it’s available for development. County Attorney Ben Yaus says the good news is despite the site’s proximity to the former Oil City property, it should be relatively clean.

“There are concerns in this area generally, and we are going to abide by DEC standards for any soil removal testing," Yaus said. "So we expect to encounter perhaps a little bit of petroleum that is likely the major kind of constituent if you will, but the site has been cleaned up.”

Yaus says it’s not considered a remedial site. He says numerous environmental reviews conducted for previous projects going back to 2003 show few if any issues.

Plans show the site extending from Solar Street to the harbor and hugging Onondaga Creek to Bear Street. There seemed to be few concerns among members of the legislature’s facilities committee. Chair Deb Cody says she’s comfortable with the purchase price, which comes in slightly under it’s appraised value.

“We're happy with the acquisition and it's kind of exciting because now that this once this gets approved next month, and we can go on to the next phase.”

The purchase still needs approval of the ways ooand means committee before moving on to the full legislature. Design of the aquarium is underway, and construction could begin this fall.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at