January 18, 2022

Public picks preferences for downtown

Plan taking shape

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cortland resident David Emperor views potential plans to develop downtown Cortland on Thursday during a public meeting at the Cortland Elks Lodge. The meeting was held to ask the public for feedback.

Cortland residents spoke Thursday — with little bits of purple and green paper — in favor of mixed-use developments, a two-way Main Street and funding for the arts as ways to invest nearly $50 million into downtown Cortland’s revitalization.

In two sessions Thursday, people examined 42 sponsored projects and 33 unsponsored projects to winnow the list down for $10 million in development funds.

Cortland was awarded $10 million from the state’s 2017 Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The money would bring in tens of millions in public and private investment, depending on which projects are selected.

The potential projects with sponsors were shown on boards around the room, grouped by project type. An additional board with a list of potential projects without sponsors was also displayed.

Each attendee was given six small squares of paper, three green and three purple, to put into boxes representing the project types to move forward. The purple ones were for public projects, like a Clinton Avenue gateway and the alternative energy grant fund. The green squares were for private projects, like creating and renovating apartments along Main Street and creating business spaces.

Kathie Wilcox of Cortland, a real estate agent, and Sandra Aloi of Cortland both want new apartments to be set up in the upper floors of Main Street buildings, though Aloi wants affordable housing options to be included, rather than more upscale market-rate.

“I want to make sure Main Street is occupied,” Aloi said. Aloi also favored a two-way Main Street while Wilcox was against it. Wilcox was also more in favor of private projects moving forward since private investors could fully realize them, as opposed to public projects that could rely on more public funds.

Project categories

The 13 project types for the Downtown Revitalization Initiative on display for
the public were:

• Mixed-use with market-rate apartments
• Mixed-use with entertainment tenant
• Newly created business space
• Historical and cultural attractions
• Arts and culture
• Agriculture and creation of public open space
• Downtown loan/Grant funds and branding
• Facade or interior renovation
• Connected downtown
• Main Street infrastructure/streetscaping
• Entertainment and culture
• Business innovation and education
• Additional municipal projects

Kevin McAndrew, one of the consultants from Cameron Engineering, the state-appointed firm to help Cortland through the Initiative process, said the listed projects were asking for a combined total of $23 million in revitalization funds, with the total cost of $46 million.

“Over the next month and a half, we will refine the projects down to the most impactful list,” McAndrew said.

Janine Franco is sponsoring a project to bring a fitness facility to 20 N. Main St. She is requesting $300,000 in revitalization funds, with the project budget at $600,000, to go toward opening up the ceiling and creating a spa-like feel.

“It can go forward without (the funds),” Franco said, “but the funds will add the finishing touches.”

Franco also spoke in favor of a two-way Main Street and helping fund the arts in the city.

“It would be a better flow from the south end to the north end,” Franco said, noting that people would not have to drive around the block to get to the North end of Main Street. She also said funding the arts gets people downtown, with people flowing from restaurants to entertainment venues and

Mayor Brian Tobin said the public forum, and the attendees’ votes, gives the initiative’s planning committee an idea for what the public wants, and gives the committee projects to prioritize. But those projects must also be feasible to move forward.

“We have a lot of great ideas here, but for some reason, some might not be feasible,” Tobin said.

The proposed list of final revitalization projects will be unveiled Feb. 1, although time and location have not been determined yet. The list will be finished in March, but has to be approved by the state.

Revitalization strategies

Goal 1: Build a downtown that includes housing, retail shopping, job availability and attractive public spaces.

• Invest in destinations to attract businesses and new residents.
• Create strong gateways, wayfinding and complete streets to strengthen connections between destinations and amenities.
• Convert Main Street to two-way traffic.
• Develop underused buildings for mixed-use development.
• Establish programs to grow and diversity businesses and retail
• Create an appealing identity.

Goal 2: Expand the culture- and recreation based creative economy.

• Strengthen the local  arts and culture community and attractions.
• Increase collaboration between downtown and local institutions.
• Increase opportunities to attract innovation or culture-based businesses.
• Consider opportunities for creating artist live/ work spaces.
• Foster cultural venues, events and opportunities.

Goal 3: Update infrastructure that integrates technology and sustainability.

• Encourage projects that improve the city’s environmental impact.
• Create a technologically advanced downtown.
• Encourage renewable energy generation.