Community leaders, property owners and school presidents literally took the stage last night during the fourth annual Ithaca Downtown Partnership Dinner at the Historic State Theatre.
Highlighting the occasion were speeches by Peggy Williams, president of Ithaca College, Carl Haynes, president of Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) and Cornell President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77.
All three presidents pointed to the different programs and relationships which their respective institutions had with downtown Ithaca. While Haynes noted TC3’s significant contributions, which include training courses and credit and non-credit classes, Williams also shed light on the fact that a strong community and downtown attracts visitors and prospective students.
Lehman, who during his undergraduate days admitted that he did go to The Haunt, a night club in downtown Ithaca, said that his exposure to the community at the time was much different than that of his son’s current experience.
While Lehman in his college days did not consider downtown as a prime destination, his son, Jacob Lehman ’06, had participated in a variety of activities in the community during his pre-orientation session. When coming back to Ithaca last year, the president said that many of his old impressions of the town were extinguished. “A lot has changed and the community has changed a lot,” Lehman said.
Among the examples which Lehman cited as the University’s community efforts include the heavy use of the Historic State Theatre for student performances with the current construction of Bailey Hall, Cornell’s share in the Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) and the work of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension.
Lehman also emphasized the increasing role that students play in the community, noting specifically the work of the Cornell Public Service Center. Lehman said that students contribute approximately 400,000 hours of volunteer service a year. “I think of [students and staff] as a true community resource,” Lehman said.
During the dinner and speeches, all three presidents emphasized the symbiotic relationship between the downtown community and the academic institutions. All three presidents noted that while the town benefits colleges in providing activities and a draw to the community, the institutions also help downtown with their contributions and interaction with Ithaca.
The dinner was after the partnership’s annual meeting and is held to have community leaders get together and establish relationships according to Kristen Ciferri, events coordinator and office manager for the IDP. Ciferri also said the dinner helps review events from the past year.
This year, the focus was centered on town-gown and downtown relationships and how vital and prosperous they are for the community, said Gary Ferguson, executive director of the IDP.
Ferguson said that many of the accomplishments which happened in the past year had to do with strong connections. “Universities around the nation have made a tremendous impact on downtowns,” Ferguson said.
The University has made other major marks on the community. A few blocks away from the theatre lies the site for the $25 million Ciminelli Project — a building set to provide retail and office space and generate jobs for the community. This project gained recognition in the awards ceremony portion of the dinner when the downtown economic development award was given to David Chiazza, vice president of development at Ciminelli.
Lehman has also taken a strong interest in boosting the University’s partnership with Ithaca, increasing Cornell’s contribution to the city with a voluntary funding of $4.7 million in the next four years.
This boost in funding has come with some doubts about the new president’s true intentions. On April 2, the University legally challenged the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission’s (ILPC) decision which denied Cornell a certificate of appropriateness needed to build a West Campus parking lot — a move which has sparked opposition.
Yet, Lehman said that the connection between the University and the downtown and surrounding community is important and events such as the one last night will help foster these relationships.
“By continuing this wonderful trend of working together, the future will be even better,” Lehman said.
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Senior Editor