Many have asked why this project is happening. Within the next week or so there will be an op ed in the Ithaca Journal talking about this and about what is happening now. Below is part of the soon to be published piece.
As people stream back into Ithaca for a new year, it is important to take note of the major changes taking place on the Downtown Ithaca Commons. Rest assured, Downtown, and particularly the Commons, remains an accessible and exciting place to shop, dine or just hang out. While the construction phase of the Commons Repair & Upgrade Project began in April 2013, the conversation regarding “upgrading” the Commons began well over ten years ago.
While replacement of the century-old water main and a portion of the sewer main is a driving force for the Commons Project, it is not the only reason the project is moving forward. The surface of the Commons is in poor condition with uneven surfaces and broken concrete resulting in pedestrian injuries and insurance claims. The City has spent over $100,000 in repairs over the last few years and more repairs are still needed. Repairing the Commons piece by piece, rather than doing the whole repair at one time, would cost far more in the long run.
The Commons is also downtown Ithaca’s main gathering place and hosts many special events:the Ithaca Festival, the Apple Harvest Festival, the Chili Cook-off, concerts, and much more. Better layout and amenities are needed for the ever growing crowds at these events. The aging electrical infrastructure is inadequate for current needs, and the current lower pressure gas service limits residential and commercial redevelopment opportunities.
The $12 million dollar project is funded by the FTA (Federal Transit Association), the City of Ithaca, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, NYSDoT, and New York State CFA (Consolidated Funding Application). Because everyone pays state and federal taxes, we in essence are all paying for this project.
The finished project will provide an even better place to shop, dine and be with friends. There will be 36 trees on the new Commons; a play structure for children; a fountain; and a redesign of the famous Bernie Milton pavilion will be located in Bank Alley. The new design will also invite more outdoor dining. Bike racks will be located at each entrance as well as placed throughout the Commons.
Because bikes racks were removed from the Commons during the construction phase, the City added bikes racks near each entrance to the Commons. Some are under cover in the Seneca Street parking garage as well as at the Green Street entrance near Cinemapolis. Walking bikes on the Commons is allowed, but riding bikes and locking bikes to gates and light poles is not.
The project is on budget and on schedule. Phase 2, Utility Rehabilitation and Replacement, started July 29, 2013 and will end November 27, 2013. Even though the site looks empty, rest assured Vacri Construction, along with Sasaki, LaBella Associates, and the Project Team, are working diligently behind the scenes reviewing product submittals, organizing materials delivery, surveying the site and digging test pits.