October 25, 2021

Bringing brownfields back to life

Residents dream big for urban development in Cortland’s south side

Bownfield Map Infographic

Cortland Alderman Thomas Michales, who represents much of the city’s south side, thinks the city could use another sporting goods store, and he’d like to see one, along with a hotel and fast food restaurant, near the old Apex Tools site on the city’s east end.

Robert “Bobcat” Bonagura would like to see a farm-to-table restaurant on south Main Street.

Tony Pace — he thinks the south side is a “food desert” that needs a medium-size grocery store on south Main.

And if Mecke Nagel’s vision became reality, a skate park and a dog park would be built on the Port Watson Industrial Park site, which would also be planted with trees.

“We need more green space,” she said.

These and many other development ideas were written, drawn and discussed Thursday night during a Brownfield Opportunity Area public workshop attended by more than two dozen people at the Port Watson Mini Conference Center.

The session, run by Thoma Development Consultants, marks the next stage of a process that will provide the city with a redevelopment guide for city’s Brownfield Opportunity Area.


The Southeast Cortland Redevelopment Area encompasses roughly 540 acres containing 42 brownfields — vacant or under-used properties.

Railroad tracks used to connect many of the industrial plants on the city’s south side.

Duplexes, some in better shape than others, dot the brownfield redevelopment zone.

Trucks dump wood chips at Cortland’s composting facility on the south side.

Photos by Todd R. McAdam/managing editor


This encompasses about a third of the city, about 540 acres containing 42 brownfields — vacant or under-used properties.

Note that not all of these 42 properties are strictly brownfields, or contaminated or potentially contaminated sites.

Tony Pace said he thought this was important to the public to understand because the term “brownfields” can give people the wrong impression that the whole area is contaminated.

“I think that that’s a very valid concern,” said resident William Fiske. “People hear that word, and they think, ‘Love Canal.’”

Richard Cunningham, president of Thoma Development, said that’s why the city refers to this area as the Southeast Redevelopment Area.

“Because we’re looking at this as a redevelopment strategy for that neighborhood,” he said.

But there are a few potentially contaminated sites in there, too, and that’s where a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency comes in. This grant, awarded to the city more than a year ago, will help pay for environmental assessments of properties marked for development, said Dan Riker, a consultant with C&S companies.

Thursday night, Cunningham gave an overview of six of the areas selected for development potential:

  • The former Apex Tools site of 9.8 acres on the east side, off Cleveland, Garfield and River streets.
  • A 2.75-acre area around the Cortland Corset building on east Court Street.
  • The 16.56-acre Port Watson Industrial Park, south of Port Watson Street and east of Pendleton Street.
  • Noss Technology Park, a 24-acre area to the southwest of the corner of Huntington and Pendleton streets.
  • South Main Street, which combines a commercial, industrial and residential uses.
  • The south-end neighborhood of 23.7 acres of 40 different properties along the railroad
    tracks between Delaware Avenue and south Main Street.

Those six areas were depicted on maps spread out on six tables, on which residents wrote suggestions on sticky notes.

Mitchell Gosser, who has lived in the city for four years, said he came to the meeting because he “had no idea what a brownfield was.” He read about the meeting and wanted to see what was going on.

He made a few suggestions for the area around the former Apex Tools site. He’d like to see small businesses along River Street and more residential housing south of that.

He also suggested a bike path from Clinton Avenue to Yaman Park, and he was pleased to hear the city is already planning to do this as part of its Northeast Gateway Intermodal Corridor infrastructure overhaul project.

Cunningham said Thoma consultants will draw up a report for the city based on Thursday’s comments and from future meetings, outlining a plan for future redevelopment.