October 18, 2021

City DRI plans on track

Some projects begin in anticipation of state funding

Kevin Conlon/city editor

A crew prepares for the reconstruction next year of Main Street in Cortland as part of the Downtow Revitaliza- tion Initiative.

Nearly two years have passed since Gov. Andrew Cuomo came to Cortland to announce that the city had won $10 million in state Downtown Revitalization Initiative funding. Since then, not much movement on the DRI has been visible.

What has been done already? What will be done, and when?

So far no state DRI money has been dispensed, said Garry VanGorder, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp. But this is not unusual, he said, and in keeping with the slow pace of state government grant disbursement.

But some DRI projects have already started — one was completed almost a year ago — in anticipation of reimbursement when the DRI money becomes available.

Planning for the biggest DRI project, the total overhaul of Main Street, is steadily inching forward, with street reconstruction expected to begin next year.

The following is a status report on all the projects connected with the DRI.

Reimagine Main Street Infrastructure and Streetscape: $5,089,248

About half of the $10 million in DRI funds will go toward rebuilding and restructuring Main Street. The project will not only redo the surface of Main Street and turn it into a two-way street, but it will also reconfigure parking, add pedestrian improvements and replace aging stormwater, sewer and water pipes.

Workers from Ravi Engineering are mapping and surveying Main Street to determine “where public property ends and the private property begins,” said Chris Bistocchi, the city’s superintendent of public works.

That data will be analyzed by Fisher Associates, the consulting rm that prepared the two-way Main Street proposal. Fisher Associates will then work on “the initial draft of a design” to submit to the city in November or December, Bistocchi said.

Mayor Brian Tobin, Bistocchi, other officials in the Department of Public Wrks and the members of DRI-related committees will look over the design and offer comments and suggestions. Tobin said the city would also hold public meetings to get community input on the proposed design.

“We want to make sure that we are living up to people’s expectations in terms of the final product,” he said.

Fisher Associates will alter its design taking these comments into account, and return with a final design in January or February, Bistocchi said.

Bistocchi said he would like construction to begin in June; that date, however, has not been set, and will require input from Fisher Associates.

“We’ve got to get moving on this,” he said. “It’s going to be a two-year project because we’re never going to able to do it all in one year.”

Bistocchi said he wants to see Main Street between Groton Avenue and Court Street finished next year, so that workers could focus on finishing Court to Tompkins Street in 2021.

While all that work is being done, he said, his eye will be toward keeping downtown businesses accessible to the public, he said.

“We want to make sure that we keep these businesses in business,” he said.

Downtown Fiber Optic and High Speed Broadband: $386,000

This project, still largely conceptual, would bring fiberoptic broadband to downtown and set up free WiFi areas on Main Street.

“We want to put in infrastructure that would allow for a connected downtown,” Tobin said.

Fisher Associates will do the initial engineering for creating the fiberoptic infrastructure, he said.

Tobin said the city would likely enter into a public-private partnership with an internet service provider to build out the
– fiberoptic cable, although the city might also buy the fiberoptic cable itself, although he said the expense made that less realistic.

“At this point we’re still flexible,” he said.

Advance the Crown City Artworks Project: $200,000

This project will feature public art, including sculpture, murals or exhibitions, in the downtown area. A working group of artists and community members has met periodically to discuss locations and featured artist, VanGorder said.

“The public art component will be an important part of what we do,” Tobin said, but this will also come after Main Street has been completed.

“We’ve got to deal with the stuff underground first,” he said. “For obvious reasons, the public art piece will most likely be a 2021 portion of the project.”

Vine Health and Fitness Gym at 20 N. Main St.: $270,000

This was the first DRI project to get off the ground. Janine Franco opened the $800,000 gym and physical therapy center in October 2018; $270,000 of this will be reimbursed with state DRI funds. The 7,000 square-foot facility is located in the Bailey Place Insurance building at the northwest corner of Groton Avenue and Main Street, and it includes a 2,000-square- foot physical therapy center for patients from Guthrie Cortland Medical Center. The gym also has a massage therapist on staff.

Downtown Pocket Park between 10 and 16 Main St.: $250,000

A small city-owned lot at this location will be turned into a pocket park, featuring seating, landscaping and lighting. Fisher Associates will do the design work, with input from city officials and committees, as part of its overall Main Street plan, according to VanGorder.

The Orchard at 28 Main St.: $975,000

The old Mullen Office Outfitters building at 28 Main St., which closed in 2017 and has been vacant since, will be transformed into The Orchard, a multi-use entertainment facility, that will feature an open-air deck on the roof, an upstairs performance space with recording equipment for capturing live shows and a downstairs food venue and four lanes of two-thirds scale bowling, according to Chris Merkley, the head of the project.

The project will cost a total of $1.4 million: $975,000 of that will be reimbursed by DRI funds, and Merkley said he will secure an additional $500,000 in private financing. Merkley said he is currently finalizing a contract for the state grant application ahead of an Oct. 27 deadline. He will lease the building from McNeil Development, the owner.

He said he hopes to start construction by the end of this year and open The Orchard for business in the spring or summer of 2021.

Paintings by Homer-based artist Nathan Loda are on display in the storefront of the building as part of a Central New York Arts grant program.

Cortland Business Innovation Center at 40 Main St.: $484,000

Construction has begun on an estimated $1.9 million project at the Cortland Business Innova- tion Center at 40 Main St.

The building, owned and run by the Cortland Downtown Partnership, was purchased for $350,000 in 2011, and a $650,000 elevator has already been installed, according to Evan Geibel, president of the Downtown Partnership and publisher of the Cortland Standard.

Geibel said the center had received a $500,000 Restore NY Communities Initiative grant to renovate the first, second and third floors of the building.

The center will also be reimbursed $484,000 in DRI funding, which will “get the project across the finish line (and which won’t be disbursed until the project is complete),” according to Geibel.

Demolition work was finished last year, said Geibel, and construction on the first floor is underway. Some work will also be done on the third floor, he said; that floor is currently being rented out to an “entrepreneur in residence.” The American Red Cross is renting out space on the second floor, he said.

Geibel said construction should be finished by the end of this year. “We hope programming will follow soon after,” he said.

Create a Building Owner/ Business Startup Loan and Grant Fund: $600,000

This project would create a revolving loan and grant fund that would help renovate commercial and residential buildings downtown, including sign and façade improvements, upper story housing restoration and commercial space renovation, with an eye toward environmentally-friendly projects. The fund could also help pay for start-up expenses for new businesses.

VanGorder said the draft guidelines for this fund have been submitted to the state Department of House and Community Renewal. He said if approval is obtained soon, the loan fund could launch later this fall.

The SUNY Cortland Institute of Applied Geospatial and Drone Technology: $100,000

Institute for Geospatial and Drone Technology would provide space and resources for startup companies and entrepreneurs, in an attempt to encourage GIS and drone company innovation in the city.

The DRI funds would pay for drones, software, hardware and a space for the program on Main Street; no location has been selected.

VanGorder said the project is a partnership with SUNY Cortland; faculty and staff there are developing a curriculum for classes that will be connected with the project.

Renovating four downtown properties for mixed commercial and residential use: $1,345,000

  • 13-15 Central Ave.: $325,000. This building, owned by McNeil Development, will be renovated into 9,000 square feet of office and retail space.
  • 73 Main St.: $220,000. Owned by McNeil Development, this building will be converted into office space on the first two floors, and two apartments on the third foor.
  • 37-39 Port Watson St.: $300,000. The building, owned by Paul Gallow, will be remade into four apartments; the side alley will be rebuilt into a pedestrian walkway. Two of the apartments will be handicapped- accessible.
  • 83-85 Main St.: $500,000. A partnership of Jamie Yaman and Steve Franco owns this building, which will be renovated into 12 market-rate loft apartments on the second and third floors — six one-bedroom, and six two- bedroom, Yaman said.

“We really want this to be the standard for downtown living,” he said.

The first floor is occupied by Sacred Art, a tattoo parlor, which will be moving out. The future tenant for the first floor will also be commercial, Yaman said.

He said internal demolition and construction will begin in early 2020.