December 5, 2021

Pocket park funding may be used for permanent stage

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

A plan to build a pocket park on Main Street in Cortland, using some of a $10 million state Downtown Revitalization Initiative award, has fallen through. Instead, city officials are considering a plan to erect a permanent stage at this end of a parking lot next to Marketplace Mall.

Setting up performance spaces during the Main Street Music Series in Cortland can cost $4,000 to $5,000 each year roughly a quarter of the series’ budget, its organizers said, but they have a plan to lower that cost using a permanent stage.

Chris Merkley, president of the Main Street Music Series board, and city officials have been discussing plans to build a permanent stage on the parking lot next to the Marketplace Mall.

“For a nonprofit, having staging facilities saves innumerable amounts of money,” Merkley said.

The stage started coming to fruition over the last year and half as plans to build a $250,000 pocket park between 10 and 16 Main St. have been stopped, said Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin.

Tobin said Sandy Panzanella, of 16-18 Main St., which houses Pawn Boss, and who owns the right of way part of the park space to the north, was not supportive of the pocket park.

Tobin decided to look to use that money for another project rather than pursue eminent domain.

Panzanella declined to comment Thursday.

After Tobin and Merkley agreed a stage would be beneficial, Tobin got approval from the state — which provided funding for the project through the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative awarded in 2017, Tobin said at a Common Council meeting this week.

“This seems like a great alternative,” Merkley said.

The idea for the stage is only in the conceptual phases, he said, but the idea would be able to create a stage that could host national touring acts and potentially have facilities that could serve as dressing rooms.

For businesses, having a permanent stage could expand the number of performers who come to the Main Street Music Series and thereby get more people in the audience, he said. More people around means more people likely to stop into a restaurant, bar or other businesses along Main Street.

For recreation seekers, having a permanent stage would mean being able to expand the city’s arts community and improve it as a downtown attraction, Merkley said.

“Cortland has a thriving art community and it just needs a platform,” he said.

Tobin shared his support, too.

“It’s an opportunity for a gathering space you don’t really have,” he said.