February 14, 2012

City Officials Lament ‘Shabby’ Collegetown

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At a meeting of the Collegetown Neighborhood Council Tuesday, Cornell students and City Officials voiced concerns about the struggling economy in Collegetown and proposed ways to improve the area.

The meeting was part of an ongoing discussion about the City of Ithaca’s Comprehensive Plan — a broad outline of what Ithaca residents want to see in the city over the next 20 to 30 years.

Many attendees at the meeting said they worry about what they perceived as a lack of public appeal in Collegetown.

Alderperson Graham Kerslick (D-4th Ward), who led the meeting, said that Collegetown is “too shabby.” The only benefits  Collegetown offers are its dining options and proximity to campus, he said.

Alderperson Ellen McCollister ’78 (D-3rd Ward) also lamented the current state of Collegetown,  and encouraged students at the meeting to inform city officials and University administrators about what they want to see developed in the area.

“The offerings in Collegetown are limited. There’s little retail, hardly any bars and no window shopping,” McCollister said. “When I was a student, there were a lot of opportunities downtown that were more diverse than the Thursday to Saturday bar scene.”

Students voiced similar sentiments during the meeting.

“As a second semester senior, I’ve seen quite a limitation. There’s little transportation to places outside of the Commons, and I wouldn’t pay a cab to get there,” Yena Kim ’12 said. “There’s nothing to do for non-drinkers; if there could be a jazz bar or a 18-plus dance bar, it would be helpful to bring more students down.”

Other students emphasized the need for more community space in Collegetown.

“There’s no space in Collegetown for neighborhood-based events. Adding amenities that would cause me to stop on the way to campus would be an improvement,” Mitch Paine grad said.

Permanent residents in Collegetown voiced different concerns during the meeting, focusing more on Collegetown’s lack of visual appeal and housing options.

“I miss the neighborhood feeling [and] having groceries other than Wilson Farms, as well as pharmacies and family-oriented diners,” said Julie Paige, associate dean of students in the Office of Fraternities, Sororities and Independent Living.

Prof. Jennifer Wilkins, nutritional sciences, said that “there are stunning architectural buildings, but … recent construction has been lacking in any ambition.”

Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 echoed concerns about housing, saying that high rents in Collegetown hinder both graduate students and undergraduates from spending more money on retail in the area.

“Collegetown is very expensive, and graduate student stipends do not equal to the prices undergraduates pay for housing,” he said.

Myrick said that, to improve Collegetown, University administrators and city officials would educate freshmen about off-campus housing.

“What you need is an informed customer, and for the freshmen to know who the bad landlords are,” he said.

However, Sharon Marx, property manager of Ithaca Renting Company, highlighted different problems in Collegetown. She said that online shopping and University-sponsored activities have strongly discouraged students from contributing to the economy in Collegetown.

“What has killed Collegetown to me …  [is that] the Internet has killed retail,” she said. “I get 100 packages to my office from my tenants, from toilet tissue to tires.”

Neighborhood meetings will continue for the next six to eight weeks to collect feedback before being passed on to consultants, who, after a year, will come up with a rough draft of the city’s Comprehensive Plan to be discussed with the Common Council.

Kerslick said that, moving forward, council members aim to focus on what community members like about Collegetown, their concerns about its future and how they would improve the area.

The first phase in creating the Comprehensive Plan for the city will be aimed at gathering proposals for the city’s future from various meetings. Each of these meetings will be  geared toward the interests of different parties, including landowners, business owners and students, according to Kerslick.

Phase two will include creating a final draft of the plan and meeting with the city’s parks, transportation and industrial development departments to decide what changes to make to the city, Kerslick said.

Original Author: Kevin Milian