April 10, 2002

Downtown Partnership Celebrates

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President Hunter R. Rawlings III spoke to a ballroom filled with local business people at the Annual Ithaca Downtown Partnership (IPD) Dinner at the Holiday Inn on South Cayuga Street. His speech offered “Cornell’s view on downtown Ithaca,” he said.

Rawlings said that, “partnership [between Ithaca and Cornell] is flourishing. We couldn’t say that seven or eight years ago.”

The focus of the dinner was the increased business development on the Commons and other parts of downtown Ithaca.

“We didn’t used to have to worry about getting a dinner reservation. Now we do. A recent study found that more visitors to Ithaca shop downtown than come up to Cornell,” Rawlings said.

He also addressed the controversial Ciminelli Office/Hotel Project. The proposed building will cost approximately $25 million to construct. The University has pledged to be the prime tenant, occupying 55,000 square feet out of 100,000 square feet of office space, a 60,000 square foot Hilton Gardens Hotel and a 15,000 square foot meeting and conference center.

However, the building’s developer, Ciminelli, is having problems negotiating a deal. The Ithaca Common Council stepped in last Wednesday and voted six-to-one to allow the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency to take over the land and sell it to the Buffalo-based Development company.

“How dare the City and this developer, Ciminelli, attempt to rob me of the ownership and equity stake in my property,” said A. Thomas Pine, one of the property’s owners, as reported by The Sun yesterday.

Rawlings, however, said that the office building is vital to downtown Ithaca’s survival because as a recent study by students from Cornell’s Johnson School of Management, found, “the key to a flourishing downtown was a major employer in the area. That is exactly what the proposed downtown office building will be,” Rawlings said. The study looked at 13 other college towns of similar size and character.

500 employees are expected to work in the new building.

Brian O’Donnell, the owner of A and B Awards, which just moved to the Commons agrees with Rawlings that such a project could save Ithaca’s downtown.

“The building is a good thing as far as bringing people downtown and having that core business, as long as they can accommodate parking, which I think Cayuga Green will do,” he said.

Cayuga Green is the $40 million companion project to the Office/Hotel Project that is designed to accommodate parking, not only for the new building, but also for the rest of the Commons.

As to whether he thought most people in Ithaca wanted to see the new building, O’Donnell said, “my opinion is that people who are for progress in Ithaca will say ‘yes.’ It’s a well thought out plan. Hopefully, they will address all the environmental issues. I think keeping within the codes will do that.”

Mayor Alan Cohen ’81 and the IDP also used the dinner as an opportunity to present the ‘Downtown Key to Success’ to Mack Travis, the retiring president of the IDP and the owner of such buildings as the Center Ithaca on the Commons.

“What would Ithaca be like if downtown were all boarded up for Cornell, for Cayuga Med, for Ithaca College,” he asked in his acceptance speech. “I’ve learned from teaching real estate classes at Cornell that good management is the key to success in any property. We are not just managing a property; we are managing a market place. We need to look beyond whether it’s the merchants we’re helping or the property owners we’re helping. We need each other.”

Archived article by Freda Ready