January 31, 2007

Grant Slated to Improve C-Town

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Joe Leonardo, co-owner of The Royal Palm, stands behind the bar while a few patrons have an afternoon drink. “The Palms,” as it is known to students, has been owned by his family for more than 50 years.

“The City of Ithaca spends so much time on downtown and not much on Collegetown,” Leonardo said.

Some Ithaca City administrators, however, are hoping to change that. With a recent $32,000 grant from New York’s Department of State, officials will begin studying ways to revitalize Collegetown. The grant will also look at ways to improve the Commons.

The city plans to contract the Urban Marketing Collective, a retail planning and strategy firm based in Toronto. The firm will be charged with analyzing the current situation in both places and determining how to attract and keep retail businesses. The firm will also explore ways to market Collegetown and The Commons to ensure that the growth of each area is complementary rather than competitive.

“We hope to be able to bring the Downtown and Collegetown areas and merchants to the same page, so when a visitor comes to Ithaca, they would want to see both Downtown and Collegetown,” said Phyllisa DeSarno, deputy director of economic development for the City of Ithaca.

Combined, the studies cost $40,000, and the city of Ithaca and the Ithaca Downtown Partnership will each cover $4,000, or 10 percent of the total cost. Each analysis is expected to take up to two months and includes a three-day site visit, community meetings, reports and presentations.

“These studies are another tool for us to get retailers to look at our market,” said Andrew Dixon, a business consultant who wrote the proposal.

Dixon’s plan highlighted the City of Ithaca’s desire to keep local businesses thriving in the area.

The proposal states, “Ithaca’s retail strength is being tested and challenged by powerful, new suburban commercial pressures … New big box commercial development and strip retail centers along Route 13.”

The analysis is expected to begin in the spring once the city receives the money from the grant.

The second study, also known as CityBranding, focuses on marketing the two areas and is important to the Ithaca community as a whole.

“The branding part of the study is for a cohesive message for Downtown and Collegetown, to draw people in,” Dixon said.

Some council members were pleased that Collegetown was included in the grant.

“It’s not just about Collegetown or Downtown, it’s a planning process that’s beneficial for both areas simultaneously,” said David Gelinas ’07, who represents the 4th ward in Common Council.

“The fact that we were able to get Collegetown included, and not just Downtown is a strong indicator that the city is really interested in improving the quality of life significantly,” Gelinas said.