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City sees bright future

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Vehicles jockey for empty parking places on Friday afternoon on Main Street in Downtown Cortland.

About 30 years ago, Cortland’s economy was thriving with large successful manufacturers, including Brockway Motor Co. and typewriter maker Smith Corona.

But the economy turned, and Cortland didn’t turn with it. The factories closed and the entire county suffered.
On Friday morning, Cortland’s turning point may have finally come.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in front of a crowd of about 200 people at the Cortland Repertory Theatre, announced the city of Cortland will receive $10 million in funding as part of the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The money will be used to help Cortland remake its downtown through various projects.

Those projects can help shape how the city and county will look, 30 to 40 years from now. What exactly that will look like? Cuomo said: “Who knows.”

“My crystal ball would say … great schools, great ideas, great businesses, they’re going to be the winners,” Cuomo said.
He emphasized the importance of helping students in New York with great ideas for a business and helping them make it a reality, with the intent they stay in the state to do so.

SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum said the college has already been working on it, and the $10 million could provide welcome assistance, by providing more entrepreneurial, and living, opportunities for students. He said the college has an entrepreneurial class, which helps students grow their business into a reality. Long Island Bagel, at 33 Main St., is one to come out of it.

Bitterbaum said he could see the city grow to become more accommodating to students in terms of living and turning a business idea into a reality, like Long Island Bagel.

“I see a thriving community,” he said. “It (the funding) provides an opportunity for a more sustainable community.”

Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin had asked the college for ideas when putting together the application for the $10 million program, and Bitterbaum said he looks forward to the continued collaboration.

Tobin said he envisions the city becoming a hub for people to go. He added he would like to see upper floors redeveloped in Main Street buildings.

“We’re fairly built out,” Tobin said. “There is not a lot of new development land. What we have to do is develop projects and do things where we already have a property.”

He also anticipates improving the quality of housing throughout the city. The more quality housing there is, the more that will encourage lower-quality housing to “step up its game.”

One of the proposed projects in the city’s application for the funding was to install high-speed wi-fi downtown. Tobin said it would be the highest speed wi-fi in the state and help attract people downtown.

The city had already made good progress with the way downtown looks in the past five or more years, said Garry VanGorder, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp. He highlighted the recently begun Crescent Commons project to turn a former factory into a mixed-use building with apartments and commercial space.

“I think over the next 10, 15, 20 years, with the help of this grant, we’re going to be able to see a continued improvement of vitality and vibrancy in the downtown district,” he said, as it could be the start of a decade’s growth for the city, attracting new people and businesses.

While the money is directed toward the city, Ty Marshal, executive director of the Center for the Arts of Homer, envisions how it will benefit the entire county; particularly its arts and entertainment culture.

“When you invest downtown, it is naturally going to have an affect throughout the county,” Marshal said. “Various towns and villages, including Homer, will see a positive effect.”

In 20 to 30 years, he said, he could see Cortland County become a bigger cultural destination. He always thought the answer for helping upstate New York grow was more arts, culture and dining. Through the revitalization initiative, he can see a growth in all three.

“It is important to draw people to Cortland County for day visits, overnight stays and for every season,” Marshal said.

Cuomo said the funding will bring new life to Cortland’s downtown and help transform it into an economic engine for the entire region.

About 30 years from now, Cortland’s economy could be back to its thriving ways.

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