City leaders discuss dispersal of Downtown Cortland revitalization funds

From left, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Empire State Development President and CEO Howard Zemsky, and Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin announce $10 million in state funding to improve downtown Cortland (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

The City of Cortland’s Local Planning Committee (LPC) met last week for the inaugural Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) project planning meeting.

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited Cortland earlier this month to award the City of Cortland with $10 million as the Central New York winner of the state’s second round of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, a project aimed at “transforming downtown neighborhoods into vibrant communities where the next generation of New Yorkers will want to live, work and raise families.”

The local planning committee, along with New York State planners and the project’s consultant team, Cameron Engineering and Associates, LLP, met at City Hall Thursday night to kick-off discussion about the planning, infrastructure engineering, and landscaping architecture of the project. The purpose of the meeting was to establish a clear vision for the goals, initiatives and actions, a strategic, catalytic investment plan, and a timeline for the project’s development into the final stages. The final plan is expected to be completed by March 2018.

The City of Cortland’s DRI application vision to develop the downtown into a thriving economic and cultural center for Cortland County outlined three key strategies:

  • Expanding the creative economy
  • Building a complete downtown neighborhood, including housing for all demographics, retail shopping, job availability, access to everyday goods and services, and attractive public spaces
  • Updating infrastructure to 21st century needs

The first of several public engagement events will be held Thursday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. at Cortland Elks Lodge on 9 Groton Ave.. Area residents are encouraged to attend the event to review the City of Cortland’s application for the DRI, and to ask questions and react to the city’s proposals for the awarded funding. Subsequent meetings and locations are to be announced, but the committee plans to hold several meetings between now and March, possibly at SUNY Cortland and at the Tompkins Cortland Community College Extension Center on South Main Street in Cortland.

The LPC stressed the magnitude of community feedback with the undertaking of such a tremendous project, tossing around ideas for various ways to conduct public outreach that is vast, adequate, and as inclusive as possible. Some of the ideas discussed were opening an ephemeral pop-up shop in the downtown corridor so stakeholders could drop in, ask questions, and give commentary; developing a website specifically geared toward the DRI; having an aggressive social media presence on various platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, with pages dedicated to the DRI; surveys and comment cards; non-emergency red alerts; mailing announcements; flyers and posters; and a series of public workshop meetings that will also be recorded and broadcast on public access television.

The NYS planners and consultant team underscored that while project goals can shift from the original application, the funding and spirit of the program is focused on energizing and revitalizing the downtown area, making the City of Cortland’s DRI nucleus bonded to the Clinton Avenue Gateway and the immediate areas of Cortland’s downtown. Targeted projects will be identified and embraced as ventures where previous or future funding is not possible, regardless if the financial backing is publicly or privately subsidized.

Some of the transformative and redevelopment projects designated for “mixed use development” as part of the City of Cortland’s DRI application include One Main, the Blue-Mug Recording Studio, Live Venue, Harold Block, 37-39 Port Watson, and Fiorentini Block.

Other possible improvement and expansion endeavors include Terrace at 100 Main, and the creation of rooftop dining and residential development; Gateway Block redevelopment; a flagship hotel; a downtown pocket park and playground; luxury student housing; a parking structure; Spiegle Wilcox Performing Arts venue; a downtown movie theater; an arts alley; expansion to the Local Food Market and Cortland Beer Company; and 1890 House Museum – Carriage House renovation.

The city also cites a pressing need for a 21st century downtown infrastructure upgrade, encompassing a number of progressive ideas: informational kiosks; a state of the art downtown Wi-Fi system; sustainable energy production via a greater percentage of renewable sources; retrofitting existing street lighting with LED lighting; and the installation of electric car charging stations.

The meeting served as a brainstorming session for the local planning committee, and the fine-tuning of the DRI project planning will steadily transform and crystallize as the weeks and months progress toward March 2018.