January 27, 2022

Cortland in transition

City’s top stories focus on working toward the future

Cortland Standard file photo

A worker lays concrete in September on the Clinton Avenue sidewalk. An $11.2 million project to renovate the infrastructure from Interstate 81’s Exit 11 up Clinton Avenue to Main Street kept the street torn up for much of the year. The project will resume in April.

The past year saw a set-up to a good deal of change in Cortland, including the start of one major street project and the planning of another, even as the tenure of the longestserving mayor in Cortland history comes to an end.

Here were the major stories:

CLINTON AVENUE TORN UP

The city’s Gateway Project to improve the entry into the city from Interstate 81 and down Clinton Avenue tore up the street for much of the year, and will do so again starting in April.

The $11.2 million project to replace aging infrastructure and repave the road began in April and is on schedule.

Sewer lines and storm lines have been replaced and the majority of curb work has been completed.

Work to install new sidewalks began in September along with excavation of the road starting from Pomeroy Street. Work is scheduled to resume in April 2022 from the railroad tracks west to Main Street.

The Gateway Project, seven years in the making, is meant to enhance the city’s entryway off Interstate 81 down Clinton Avenue and provide a good impression of the city for visitors and residents alike, Mayor Brian Tobin has said.

10-YEAR TENURE

Tobin will end his 10-year tenure this week, the longest-serving mayor in Cortland.

Tobin was elected to his first of five two-year terms in 2011, but served two terms on the city’s Common Council before that.

Tobin said he had three priorities: neighborhood development, downtown development and “keeping Cortland family-friendly.” One of the hallmarks of his term was winning $10 million in Downtown Revitalization Initiative funds from the state in 2018, in addition to $21 million in state and federal grants and loans for overhauling the entire east-west corridor of the city, a project that began last summer on Clinton Avenue. Among the infrastructure projects, Tobin said he was most proud of improving park facilities.

Suggett, Beaudry and Dexter parks all got new playground equipment, funded by grants. The Wickwire poolhouse at Suggett also got a nearly $700,000 makeover funded by grants.

Succeeding Tobin is Scott Steve, Cortland’s first Republican mayor since 1984. He defeated Bruce Tytler in November, promising to focus on transparency, cleaner streets and easier road construction.

Steve also served as a commissioner on the city Zoning Board of Appeals and as Cortland County legislator from 2002 to 2005, including two years as chairman.

PARKER SCHOOL ALMOST PURCHASED

The acquisition of Parker School is expected to complete this year, Tobin said.

The plan was that the city would buy the school from the Cortland Enlarged City School District and then lease it to CAPCO and the YWCA for use as an early childhood learning center. The proposals for the project began in 2019.

In 2020, Cortland’s Common Council approved the $91 purchase, but the mayor blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for a yearlong delay.

City officials previously said the project would require $2 million in capital expenses over 10 years, as well as $460,000 in start-up expenses and $166,000 in annual operating costs.

So far, the following funding has been allocated or promised:

• $500,000 from Empire State Development.

• $600,000 pledged by former Assembly Member Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) and $500,000 by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) from the State and Municipal Facilities Program.

• $629,889 in state funds to YWCA and CAPCO to train employees for programs.

HOMER AVENUE SEES NEW FUTURE

New developments are taking shape along Homer Avenue, and in a couple of years, you might see more, after projects begun this year:

• Work began in March on the $12 million Grace Brown House to provide 25 apartments and services for families at risk of homelessness, many of whom would be helped by the YWCA’s Aid to Victims of Violence program.

Christopher Community, a Syracuse nonprofit, developed the project and helped find funding through grants, and other state and federal programs.

• A developer announced in July a plan to restore the historic Gillette Skirt Factory building at 32 Miller St. — the city’s first concrete block building — and turn it into a market-rate housing complex, in another project that would help revitalize the Homer Avenue corridor in Cortland.

Gillette Skirt Factory Apartments, LLC plans to restore the existing historic building to contain 20 housing units and commercial space. Project coordinator Troy Beckwith, who is also a city alderperson, said the developers have received approval from the Cortland County Planning Department.

The 116-year-old building was the third and final factory for the original Gillette Skirt Co., and was built to replace a building destroyed by fire in 1904.

• The city of Cortland announced plans in December to seek a $12 million federal loan to rebuild and improve Homer Avenue, replacing its water and sewer mains, as well.

The Homer Avenue project and the funding are similar to a project that is under way to rebuild Clinton Avenue, said Mack Cook, the city director of administration and finance. Homer Avenue is one of the two primary entrances to the city for people coming from Interstate 81.

DRI ROLLS ON

Three years since the city won $10 million for the Downtown Revitalization Initiative project, the largest project — a $5 million plan to rebuild Main Street — will go to bid soon, with construction to begin next spring.

The plan includes replacing the infrastructure beneath the street and converting it to two-way traffic.

A $386,000 project to install fiber-optic cable and improve high-speed broadband internet service will occur about the same time.

That would allow the city to provide free wi-fi access downtown.

After that, the Crown City Artworks Project will install public art, including sculptures, a mural or other exhibits.

A $500,000 renovation of 83-85 Main St. will be done next spring. An outdoor music stage next to the Marketplace Mall will probably be done in the two years after the underground portion is done, Tobin said.