October 22, 2021

Advisory committee discusses Main Street’s future

Travis Dunn/staff reporter

This pocket park between the Community Restaurant and Pawn Boss in this March Cortland Standard file photo is one area of Main Street slated for a major facelift as part of the city’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

The pocket park between the Community Restaurant at 10 Main St. and Pawn Boss at 16 Main St. isn’t much to look at.

At the end of winter, it’s gray and grim, scattered with bits of trash and scraps of dirty snow. It has a few trees and a bike rack, but no grass and nowhere to sit. Since August 2018, it’s been known as the place where a local man — Damien Grant — was fatally stabbed. This is not a very welcoming place, and even less so after dark.

But a city-created advisory committee seeks to change that. The pocket park is a major part of the aesthetic overhaul of public spaces on Main Street as part of the city’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative. Wednesday afternoon, 10 people sat down to talk about that effort in the conference room of the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

One participant, musician Chris Merkley, said he would like to see artwork contained in a sunken glass-covered vault inside the park. He also suggested art connected with the existing light poles in the park — “something that makes people look down and up.”

Crystal Lyon, the artist who painted the giant mural on the Cortland Corset Building on East Court Street, suggested recessed lights, whose colors could be changed according to season. She also said she’d like to see artwork that referenced the city’s history.

Committee Chairman Frank Kelly, a former Syracuse parks commissioner, wants to see more greenery, particularly trees, in the pocket park.

There’s money behind these ideas — $250,000 has been allocated for public arts component of the $5 million in DRI funds the city has been awarded for overhauling Main Street.

Merkley is also heading the DRI backed renovation of nearby 28 Main St., or the former Mullen Office Outfitters, which he intends to transform into The Orchard, a multi-use entertainment facility. The DRI includes $975,000 in funds for the project.

He has a suggestion for that building, too: A big paint-by-the-numbers mural on the exterior Orchard Avenue-facing wall, that children and residents could collaborate in painting together.

“We’re going to have to paint our wall anyway, so I’d like to paint it diff colors,” he said.

Lyons thought it was a great idea — especially the part about including kids.

“It allows them to take ownership and have some pride in it,” she said.

The discussion also took in the larger scope of the total DRI project. Tim Faulkner, senior transportation manager for Fisher Associates, a Syracuse-based engineering firm, briefly addressed proposed changes to the road itself.

The current plan is for two-way traffic and back-in parking, and that’s not going to change, he said.

That plan also calls for two-way left turn lanes, or TWLTLs, along much of Main Street. These areas would also allow delivery trucks to park while unloading. A few raised medians will also be scattered along this center strip, but the locations are still being worked out, Fisher said.

The project also includes replacing the water and sewer mains beneath the street.

Another area that might see a significant change is the southbound right turn lane to Tompkins Street outside the Dark Horse Tavern, A Pizza and More and the Cortland Standard offices.

The preliminary street design shows a new curb being built out to completely cover this lane for the full length of that block — from Clayton Avenue to Tompkins Street.

Faulkner said the idea was proposed because vehicles frequently block access to this short turn lane, and this wastes space. But right now the proposal is only on paper.

“It’s not definite,” Faulkner said. “We’re in a very conceptual design stage.”

Since Tompkins Street is a state road — Route 13 — any proposed change to that intersection would also require state Department of Transportation approval, he said.

Bruce Adams, the city’s superintendent of wastewater, sat silent throughout the meeting that he hosted in his Port Watson Street office space, but he had a few thoughts for the group before they packed up.

Cortland, he said, used to have this image of itself as a city that built things. But the loss of Brockway and Smith Corona “really pulled the heart and soul out of this community,” he said.

“The city just hasn’t had a sense of itself. So efforts like this that seek to move the city to one that can view itself as having its own unique cultural identity, that is both a sources of pride and also attractive to visitors, that’s enormous,” Adams said.