September 13, 2006

Collegetown Task Force Explores Growth Obstacles

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A stone sign with “Cornell University” in block letters marks the intersection of Cornell and Collegetown before College Avenue crosses over Cascadilla Gorge.

Examining Collegetown’s role as a “gateway” to Cornell is just one method the Collegetown Vision Task Force is trying to improve the area.

“The goal is to come up with a statement of how Collegetown should look in the long-term and the obstacles to be overcome,” said David Gelinas ’07 (D-4th Ward), chair of the task force.

Composed of 11 voting members, the task force meets every three weeks. The task force includes residents, students, business owners, employees, University representatives and Common Council members. In an effort to get community input, the task force is hosting a public forum tomorrow to generate ideas about how Collegetown should look in the next five to ten years.

“[There’s] an opportunity for a beautified Collegetown; it’s looking a little tired,” said Phyllisa DeSarno, deputy director of economic development for the City of Ithaca and task force member. She suggested improving sidewalks and lighting and making the area more pedestrian-friendly.

Building more of a community feeling, in addition to improving Collegetown aesthetics, is important to Rob Cohen, owner of Stella’s and Olivia. He is in favor of having an open gathering space for student groups, outdoor movies, music or a farmer’s market.
“Cornell students’ experience in Collegetown is a major part of their experience at Cornell; an improved Collegetown will improve their experience,” Cohen said.

However, many students and residents complain of traffic and parking problems in Collegetown.

“Affordable housing, parking, pot holes and snowplowing are some of the things students who live in Collegetown are constantly talking about,” said Sarah Boxer ’07, student representative on the task force and vice president for finance for the Student Assembly. Task force members hope to find ways to improve traffic and circulation.
“[Members are] looking at enhancing the environment for pedestrians by reducing the demand for cars,” said City Planner Leslie Chatterton, who staffs the task force but is not a voting member.

There are many vacant buildings in Collegetown. One reason may be high rental costs. “The rents are very, very high … it’s the highest rent district in all of Ithaca,” DeSarno said.

Council members have discussed having more office and academic uses in Collegetown, which would improve business for merchants during breaks when most students leave Ithaca. Another way to boost business would be to create an organization for local merchants.
“I envision there being a BID in Collegetown,” Gelinas said.

A Business Improvement District similar to the existing Ithaca Downtown Partnership would be able to strengthen the Collegetown business sector.

By the end of the year, the task force will give recommendations for a vision for Collegetown to the Common Council, which could set policies and be the basis for applying for outside funding, according to Chatterton.

“Collegetown has been neglected … we finally stand at a point in time when people can throw their weight behind it and make [changes] happen in Collegetown,” Gelinas said.

Tomorrow’s public forum “Fifty great ideas for Collegetown,” to share ideas will take place from 4 to 6 p.m., at St. Luke Lutheran Church and is sponsored by the Collegetown Vision Task Force and the Collegetown Neighborhood Council.

“Right now a lot of people don’t feel that Collegetown measures up as the gateway to Cornell,” Chatterton said.