November 9, 2007

Council Considers Business Improvement District

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On the second day after his election to the Ithaca Common Council, Svante Myrick ’09 led the Collegetown Council Meeting’s extensive discussion on implementing the Collegetown Vision Statement at yesterday’s meeting in the basement of St. Luke’s.
The Collegetown Vision Statement recommends initiatives and changes that could be made to better Collegetown; among the components are improvements to businesses, housing, parking and the “cultural experience.”
One recommendation that was heavily discussed at the meeting was the possible creation of a Business Improvement District (BID), an organization of the merchants in Collegetown. A BID would allow “vision, coordination and oversight of a cohesive strategy for strengthening the Collegetown business section,” according to the Vision Statement.
A BID would require that the participating businesses pay dues and then determine as an organization where and how to spend the funds. The dues could go towards different events or the improvement of the overall appearance of Collegetown. One example is that the businesses could have special events during Homecoming or parents weekend, Myrick said.
A BID already exists in downtown Ithaca, the Ithaca Downtown Partnership, and a Collegetown BID could be modeled after this one. Although the current downtown BID does not extend into Collegetown, there would be some benefits if it did, said Leslie Chatterton, a city planner. One such benefit could be the sharing of different maintenance equipment, like street cleaners. In order to establish a BID in Collegetown, the current businesses would have to understand the benefits of an organization.
A BID would also help to improve the appearance of Collegetown, another topic discussed at the Council meeting. The Collegetown Vision Implementation Committee has been meeting with different urban designers in order to come up with a visual plan for Collegetown by October 2008. The hiring of a designer brought forth discussion of the current residents of Collegetown and the potential to create a more diverse body of residents — that is, one that would mix faculty, undergrads, grad students and families.
“I think it’s a tough sell to get families to live in Collegetown,” said George Taber, Cornell vice president of Government and Community Relations. “It’s not conducive to family life.”
In addition to families, many graduate students choose not to live in Collegetown because of its appearance and lack of parking, said Ed Strong, GPSA representative. There are currently 6,000 masters and doctorate students, many of whom are required to stay in Ithaca over the summer. If Collegetown were more attractive to these students, they might choose to live there over the summer, providing customers to the businesses, Strong said.
“If the buses were better, if the parking were better … If you made Collegetown more pleasant, grad students would want to live there,” Strong said.
Although other attendees of the meeting felt that Collegetown is a stronghold for students and should remain such.
“Collegetown is a branch for students to go to,” said Sharon Marx, a property manager for Ithaca Renting Company. “I’ve always looked at it as the place where students should be. Just protect Collegetown for students; all ages of students.”
In seeking to make Collegetown more attractive, the Council will begin to work with an urban designer, who must be able to make changes that will anticipate future growth and population in Collegetown.
“One of the big challenges is that we are asking the consultants to give us their models then give us the language to turn these into laws,” Myrick said.
The urban designer will have to follow a certain set of guidelines created by the Council but will also have artistic freedom in creating a plan.
“We want to better Collegetown as a whole and we are looking at the components to do that,” said Gayraud Townsend ’05 (D-4th Ward). “Whoever wants to support this idea, step up and hit this pitch out of the park. Big things are going to happen in Collegetown.”