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Cortland seeks $10 million grant to revitalize downtown

Competition pits cities against each other

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

This view of the corner of Main Street and Groton Avenue in Cortland shows the proposed location of a 100-room hotel on Main Street and an apartment building on Groton Avenue. The city is competing for a $10 million 2017 New York State Downtown Revitalization Initiative Grant with the idea of building a downtown for the future.

CORTLAND — Give Cortland $10 million, and it will build a downtown geared toward arts, entertainment and hospitality, developing a creative economy and a complete downtown neighborhood for the future.

The city has submitted its application for the 2017 New York State Downtown Revitalization Initiative Grant, a winner-take-all competition with other Central New York cities for money for capital projects meant to spur downtown development.

Among Cortland’s big plans are a $6.5 million, 100-room hotel, perhaps on Main Street near the Community Restaurant, $20 million worth of luxury student housing, a recording studio, $12 million to redevelop Clinton Avenue from Interstate 81’s Exit 11 to downtown, a parking structure and rooftop dining at a downtown restaurant.

First, though, it needs to win the $10 million, which it would try to leverage into nearly $50 million in private and other public funding. The program awards 10 cities, one from each Regional Economic Development Council, based on past investments and future potential, recent or impending job growth, an attractive environment, quality-of-life policies, support for the local vision, project readiness and clear boundaries and sufficient social services.

Cortland applied for the same program last year, but lost to Oswego. Gov. Andrew Cuomo will announce the winners in the fall.
One of the flagship projects is a 100-room hotel on Main Street, tentatively set for the vacant space between Community Restaurant and Pawn Boss. Richard Cunningham, the senior consultant for Thoma Development Consultants, the lead consultants who helped draft the application, said developments like the hotel and other housing projects can spur others.

“It allows restaurants and shops to capitalize on the visitor’s presence,” Cunningham said.

The application lists 26 potential projects costing almost $60 million. The listed projects total $12 million in funding from the state program,with other private and public sources covering the rest. One project, a $20 million luxury student housing facility, asks for no public money, but offers no details where it would come from.
Kerby Thompson, the producing director for the Cortland Repertory Theatre, has been involved in committees vetting ideas. He sees the potential in filling potential residential space with out-of-town actors the theater employs and the potential for getting people involved with the arts.

“Our location in New York state is great to be a cultural hub,” Thompson said, noting Cortland’s proximity to I-81 and the other benefits that come with it. “People go to the restaurants and shops before the shows. If you get performers people want to see, they’ll stay in hotels.”

Whatever city wins will spend six to seven months with an outside consultant to determine which projects can move ahead.

The boundaries of the DRI projects go from Main Street south to South Avenue, north to the Local Food Market, along Groton Avenue to Homer Avenue, Clinton Avenue to Greenbush Street, Port Watson Street to Greenbush Street and Tompkins Street down to Prospect Terrace.

Compared to last year’s application, Cunningham said more time went into what projects were ready, because project readiness is one of the main differences between last year’s application and this year’s.

“The concepts have been around for months, maybe years,” Cunningham said. “This application is the summary of that work.”

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