February 20, 2013

EDITORIAL: Remembering Collegetown When Revitalizing Ithaca

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In the spring of 2009, Green Café –– a 24-hour eatery that became a popular late-night spot for Cornell students –– opened in Collegetown. Students who had witnessed many businesses in the area close during their years at Cornell were enthusiastic about the restaurant. Some expressed hope that the café’s opening would herald a revitalization of the Collegetown landscape. But after just a year, the restaurant filed for bankruptcy and shut its doors. Today, it remains vacant — one of many empty storefronts on College Avenue, Dryden Road and Eddy Street.

The story of Green Café is representative of the Collegetown landscape as a whole. While some businesses have managed to stay solvent, far too many have been forced to close. New businesses occasionally open their doors but struggle to survive and once again become empty storefronts. There are many reasons that businesses close, such as changes in demand or a high tax burden. In the case of Collegetown, however, the actions of landlords have played a prominent role.

Collegetown landlords have been reluctant to lease and develop their vacant properties, even when many potential tenants have expressed interest in opening new businesses. Some have not rented out their properties because, they say, they have not found the right fit. Avramis Real Estate, for example, has seen about 50 potential tenants express interest in the former location of Collegetown Pizza at 401 College Ave., yet the lot still remains unused.

Landlords must turn a profit so their properties can continue to operate, and they have the right to look for tenants who will remain financially sound in the long term. But as members of the community, these landlords should also be concerned with the negative effects these long-term empty storefronts have on Collegetown — as long as their doors remain closed, these spaces do not bolster the city’s tax revenue and employment and only give the impression that the area is on the decline. Rather than focusing solely on maximizing their profits, they should look to revitalize the area by filling these properties with eager prospective tenants, creating a virtuous cycle that will benefit both their companies and the community.

After riding out the Great Recession, Ithaca is on the precipice of a great revitalization, with new downtown properties set for construction and federal and state money pouring in to revitalize the Commons. Yet Collegetown has been left behind in this renaissance. With a steady demand from students, Collegetown should be a thriving community. However, without an effort on the part of developers to fill their vacant properties, the area will continue to languish.