Mayor Svante Myrick ’09, who has often been vocal about the pandemic’s damaging effects to Ithaca, lauded Cornell’s decision to reopen campus on Tuesday.
“Their plan is a smart one,” Myrick said in an interview with The Sun. “It’s proactive, it’s cautious, but it still allows for the University to continue its mission. And [it] will give the city a shot at succeeding.”
Since Cornell and Ithaca College shuttered their doors in March, the city has seen a surge in unemployment, budget cuts and widespread business closures. Between March and April, the unemployment rate in Tompkins County — which has had historically high levels of employment — jumped from 3.5 to a staggering 10.1 percent. Ithaca furloughed 87 city employees and placed a hiring freeze on positions that it originally intended to fill.
“With no buying or selling happening, there’s no sales taxes, and Ithaca is more dependent on sales taxes because the other form of revenue is property taxes and Cornell doesn’t pay any property taxes,” Myrick said. “So, we’ve been forced to balance our budget by relying on a large percentage of sales tax. For the last four months, that money has slowed to a trickle.”
In a city whose economy is heavily reliant on college students, small business owners previously expressed concerns that the pandemic may financially destroy them if students could not come back in the fall.
Only three weeks after Cornell closed its campus, 37 local businesses reported a combined total of 715 layoffs, with Collegetown Bagels making up over half of the reported layoffs.
President Martha E. Pollack announced Tuesday that Cornell would reopen campus for the fall semester, with the University implementing a slew of sanitary measures and health precautions to stymie any outbreaks. Under this new normal, students and faculty will be required to wear masks on campus, socially distance in lecture halls and partake in daily check-ins. Concerts and in-person lectures involving outside guests will also not take place during the semester.
It turns out that a smart, science based plan that focuses on testing, tracing, and mask wearing will both keep us safe and give our economy a chance to recover.
In short – it is what the experts have been preaching since March. You listening feds? https://t.co/qCAhVOPHOL
— Svante Myrick (@SvanteMyrick) July 1, 2020
The fall semester will have a delayed start, as in-person instruction will resume Sept. 2 rather than the initially planned Aug. 27 date. Students will be sent home by Thanksgiving break, wrapping up the semester completely online.
Myrick has previously said he would be “extremely worried” for Ithaca if the pandemic were to fundamentally alter higher education. Now that students are expected to return to Cornell and Ithaca College, Myrick said the colleges made a good decision, but acknowledged that Ithaca’s economy won’t completely bounce back.
Part of this uncertainty comes from strict travel plans the University implemented in its reopening plan, which will limit the number of large events on campus and people coming to Ithaca. Cornell sports may be heavily restricted — it is currently unclear if athletic events will have spectators.
“It’s not going to be the same,” Myrick said. “Every time Princeton’s baseball team comes here or our hockey team comes, they rent out dozens of rooms in the hotels, they order food, they go shopping. Same thing happens when there’s concerts or lectures or special events at any size. Without those special events, our economy won’t get back to normal.”