October 23, 2021

Technology drives downtown Cortland plan

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Bridget Batsford, of Cortland, uses her smart device Wednesday on Main Street in Cortland. The city is considering creating a high-speed wi-fi system if it obtains a $10 million state grant to improve its downtown.

Imagine Cortland with the fastest downtown wi-fi network in New York. Digital signs that helps give directions for anywhere downtown. And maybe rooftop solar panels.

That could be on the horizon for Cortland if the city receives $10 million in state funding under the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

“These amenities would benefit young professionals and set it (Cortland) apart from other downtowns,” said Rich Cunningham, senior consultant for Thoma Development, which prepared the grant application for the city.

Under the section of the city’s application titled “21st Century Downtown Infrastructure,” the city of Cortland seeks to create modern amenities that will appeal to the next generation of residents and employees and further Cortland’s goal in being a leader in sustainability. The proposed ideas include:

– A downtown wi-fi system in the existing fiber optic cable network, with speeds of up to 2.5 gigabytes.
– Four electric vehicle charging stations to support future electric car use.
– A hybrid signage and digital wayfinding and information system that will provide maps and directions downtown.
– A $200,000 alternative energy grant fund to help 20 downtown buildings install rooftop solar or wind power. The program funds will come from New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
– Retrofitting existing street lighting with powered over ethernet powered and LED street lighting.

These projects have a total cost of $650,000, with Downtown Revitalization funds covering $560,000.
Some potential ideas that were not listed in the application are a downtown geothermal heating and cooling system and solar panels located over parking lots.

The concepts for these ideas, along with others listed in the application, grew out of public brainstorming sessions, with the final ideas coming from the application’s steering committee. If Cortland does get the $10 million from the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, a state consultant would help determine which ideas are feasible.

Cunningham said the alternative energy grant fund’s incentives would make rooftop installations feasible. He pointed out the resulting reduced utility costs.

“There’ll be more funding on the property owners side and affordable rent for businesses and homes,” Cunningham said.

An electric car station already exists in the Price Chopper supermarket parking lot off Route 13 in South Cortland. There are only 22 registered electric vehicles in Cortland County, but that number may grow due to a state sponsored rebate for electric cars. Cunningham said the idea is to be ahead of the curve and have infrastructure in place.

“A lot of these cars are coming in from outside the county,” Mayor Brian Tobin said, hoping that electric cars would be considered by area car owners in the future.