Cortland residents, officials discuss projects for downtown grant money

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)

Area community members and stakeholders gathered at the Cortland Community Center—the old Susquehanna train station located at 90 Central Ave.—Wednesday evening with a few members of the Downtown Revitalization Project’s (DRI) Local Planning Committee (LPC) to dissect and drum up new and alternative ideas for the city’s proposal for the disbursement of the $10 million that Gov. Cuomo awarded to Cortland to revitalize the downtown corridor.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of several meetings the Friends of Downtown Cortland (FoDC) focus group plans to hold over the next couple months as the DRI project progresses into its final stages. The FoDC meetings serve as an informal symposium for area residents and stakeholders to keep abreast of the project’s progress and to proffer advice and input.

The meetings held by the FoDC assembly are separate from the public hearings that will be held by the project’s official Local Planning Committee, NYS planners, and the project’s consultant team, but both committees are harmonized toward fine-tuning the disbursement of the DRI funds, and residents are encouraged to attend both.

Some of the members expressed concern over the lack of representation by women and residents under the age of 40 representing the planning committee, calling for a more diverse and inclusive aggregation.

A little over a dozen community members gathered at the Cortland Community Center and offered various ideas for the dispersal of the $10 million:

  • Bringing the non-profit organization, ArtSpace, to downtown Cortland, which “uses the tools of real estate development to create affordable, appropriate places where artists can live and work.”
  • Expanding parking for the Local Food Market and Café, and possibly building a greenhouse for young people to work and cultivate on an internship program, also to be utilized as a community garden.
  • Rehabilitating housing facades down the Clinton Avenue Gateway to draw travelers from the interstate into Cortland’s downtown area.
  • Creating a “poly-tran” path for bikes and pedestrians with the specific intent of creating a safe place for bikes, wheelchairs, and foot commuters.
  • Launching a trolley to connect residents with area businesses
  • Establishing public transportation and/or downtown housing for senior citizens
  • Fly-fishing catch-and-release along the Tioughnioga River tributary at Riverside Plaza, hailed as an untapped resource with a tremendous trout habitat, with possible “fishing packages” offered by local hotels/motels.
  • Independent movie theater and/or drive-in venue
  • Retail shops
  • Expanded fine-dining restaurants
  • Expanded Farmers Market

LPC members underlined the cardinal principle of the awarded $10 million as “seed capital” for the city of Cortland, harnessing the theory of trickle-down economics, i.e., using the $10 million to stimulate business investment in the short term, subsequently benefitting the community in the long term. 7th Ward Alderman Adam Megivern elucidated the project’s strategic goal.

“This is a brick-and-mortar $10 million. They’re looking for about $50 million dollars, a 5:1 approximate match from private dollars. You should see about $100 million in development in the next two years,” Megivern said.