Paul Glover's Replies to Ithaca Downtown Partnership

What additions or changes would you propose to the "Downtown Ithaca Ten-Year Development Strategy?"
a. Transportation is prioritized at the bottom of the list (p. 34) rather than near the top. Bringing downtown hundreds of new jobs and residents and thousands of additional shoppers and tourists requires a foundation of alternatives to the automobile. Cars cannot carry the traffic alone-- there is not enough physical space for roadway and parking. We'll need park & ride with bus shuttles, fixed rail trollies, pedicabs and bicycles, pedestrian proximities.Transportation is a key priority.
b. Office building vacancies are high nationwide. Therefore, proposed downtown office expansion should be physically and financially designed for multimodal use, rather than commit to reliance on high tech, so that square footage may be filled during economic downturns. This means facilities, rents and ownership that could incubate small regional-serving industries like food processing, health care, warehousing re-useables, fabricating insulation, etc.
c. A small primary care health clinic would serve downtown residents/workers/visitors and attract traffic.
d. Gray Commons paving needs to be replaced by tasteful mosaics featuring Ithaca's waterfalls, wildlife, plants, historic buildings. Can be designed and installed by local artists.
e. See also #13 answers.

2) Do you support this strategy?
Yes. It assumes greater density and function at the city's core, expands local ownership, celebrates local creativity, reduces automobile dependence and seeks to reverse sprawl.

3) Definition of Econ Development as applies to Downtown?
Economic development at its best enables local people to sell local goods, paying low rents to local building owners (or even the City itself) who reinvest in Ithaca, and pays livable wages to employees, while exciting the whole nation about our unique retail/community destination.

4) Prioritize continued development of commercial districts
a. Downtown. The historic and social center.
b. Farmer's Market. Selling locally-made goods and incubating businesses which occasionally move to the Commons.
c. West End. Locally-owned businesses along West State.
d. Collegetown. Dense urban collector which can feed readily to downtown.
e. Inlet Island. Avoid becoming a gentrified escape from Downtown.
f. Southwest. Drains our community's wealth and identity.

5. How ensure these districts complement rather than compete?
Revive heritage trolley linking West End, Commons Collegetown and Cornell. Promoting a, b, c, d jointly. I would not expend further resources on Southwest.

6. How encourage mutual development of these districts?
Marketing and promotions, maps, transit, bikeways, parades, interdistrict discount coupons.

7. How encourage projects that bring new pedestrian traffic to center city?
There are 20,000 Ithacans within 10 blocks of the Commons. Beyond four blocks they are less likely to walk downtown, and few will drive downtown to hunt and pay for parking. Were safe and separate bike lanes available to within one block of downtown, and aggressively promoted, the Commons could become a family destination among this natural shopper base. I had promoted the ten-minute headway bus shuttle years ago. The roads around the Commons prevent access even while they encourage it. Cars surround the Commons like sharks in a moat, discouraging other access.
The most direct route to pedestrian traffic is through expanded downtown housing.
Any plans to make downtown more pedestrian, bike and transit friendly, and generally more energy-efficient, would not only make our urban lives healthier, more convenient, less expensive, more humane, more fun, less stressful, and lower our taxes (much of the City's budget subsidizes cars). They would be good business.
I would never seek to rip out the Commons and replace it with street and parking spaces. That would merely open another route to Wegman's. The former Commons would become another dull section of East State Street, and could become almost as quiet as West State Street. There are of course many pedestrian malls which have failed, yet one needn't travel far (Geneva, Elmira, Binghamton, Cortland) to see struggling Main Streets either.
While City Hall has long assumed that cars are the only practical system for economic development, larger numbers of Ithacans understand that bike, transit and pedestrian development are more practical, since they'd attract here visitors and new residents who yearn for this kind of urban life. The first American cities to move boldly in this direction will bring new wealth, new talent, and receive worldwide attention.
Until 1935, a trolley brought townfolk downtown along Tioga Street, and students downtown via Eddy/State Streets. This can be installed within two years, according to Ithacan Marc Cramer, financial consultant for the San Diego trolley. More than transportation, trollies can put Ithaca on the map as the San Francisco of the east. Riding them becomes an essential Ithaca experience, capturing for our town center every visitor to central New York, every parent who brings kids to college, and most students looking for something new to do [www.ithacahours.com/9208.html] Cramer also suggests that tour buses be encouraged to stop along the Commons.
During the 1997 snow emergency, when cars were banned, city streets quickly filled with sledders, skiers, walkers and even bicyclists. The only downtown restaurant open (CTB Aurora St.) was packed. People were glad to reclaim their city, replacing car dominance with fellowship.

8. How retain existing businesses? How recruit new businesses?
The present Commons retail vacancies largely reflect cultural change. Successful Commons stores have followed Ithaca's transition away from white Reader's Digest America (and from farm to urban) toward a cosmopolitan, multiethnic mix of students and immigrants, boomer escapees from bigger cities with their kids and grandkids, plus blue collar workers who have long owned homes here, and feisty old timers who haven't fled to suburbs. Most of these city folks seem to have in common that they value their individuality -as people willing to explore new styles --who regard themselves as creators and citizens rather than just consumers.
Also essential to Commons revival, in any form, are rents low enough to promote bootstrap enterprises. This is accomplished by charging a vacancy tax on storefronts empty six months or more, to compensate the City for lost sales tax revenues. For example, shops empty six months might have property tax increased 25%; full-year vacancies would add 50% tax; eighteen months 75%; two years 100%. This tax (invoked elsewhere when inflation rates and local unemployment are within specified ranges) would force rents lower, to fill shops, and would encourage property sales to landlords less greedy.

9) As Mayor, how would you help to recruit new businesses to downtown? What is the role of City in encouraging and/or incenting new businesses?
The same applies here as with encouraging new shoppers and residents. Downtown will thrive by becoming an essential and unique destination. Expanding beyond boutique retail, it should balance attractions (like the Farmer's Market includes food/ag/crafts), to provide basic services like grocery, dry goods, health care (alternative/complementary healing), street vendors and buskers. We must be more than a shopping center, by generating excitement, making the Commons famous. We promote the Ithaca brand (perhaps a made-in-Ithaca catalog store) and celebrating the absence of chain retailers, which fail on the Commons (like McDonald's, Taco Bell, Izard's, B. Dalton Books, Pizza Hut) not for lack of cars, but for lack of interest. Dozens of unique homegrown specialty gift and food stores are already doing well on the Commons. People are looking for something fresh.We've got to be able to say 'you can't get this anywhere else.'

10) What is the role of the public sector in supporting the restoration and/or subsequent operation of the State Theatre?
Historic State Theatre is the Commons' flagship. As an essential part of the Commons' cultural mission it needs public & private funding. I favor maximum energy efficiencies to reduce overhead, thus favor priority investment for that.

11) How would you help make new downtown housing projects possible?
By making downtown a distinctive and easy place to visit, we make it a desirable place to live. The hundreds of residences above shops should be marketed to urbanites eager to live close to culture, stores, employment, colleges and nature, and who like to walk and use abundant transit.
I prefer that downtown housing be limited equity co-housing, for mixed race and income, and locally-owned by those who reinvest in Ithaca.

12) Definition of sprawl and City Hall role:
Sprawl is not only geographicall spread beyond the City's boundaries. Internal sprawl, within the City, is car-dependent, single-story, single-use retail and housing, preempting valuable core property for parking.
Fifty years ago, Ithaca's downtown was the only major shopping center within 20 miles. Since then, the Ithaca Plaza became this area's first shopping mall (1949), Atwater's grocery left downtown (1952), the hospital moved to East Hill (1958), Seneca/Green traffic was split around State Street (1957), Route 13 was carved up to Lansing (1963) and Jamesway soon pulled city residents to Triphammer for bargains, Ithaca College left downtown to South Hill (1963-1967), the K-Mart building entered the wetlands (1967), the public library moved four blocks farther away (1968), East Hlll Plaza intercepted East Hill residents (1972), the Commons itself was installed to confront mall competition (1974), the Farmer's Market was evicted from the Commons (1976), Pyramid mall lured even more City residents from downtown (1976), the downtown YMCA burned (1978), Tops opened (1980), the Department of Social Services was sent to West Hill (1986), Wegman's arrived and began to overpower many small local retailers (1987), and it later became the area's dominant retail food center (1997). Southwest sprawl continues this flight.
Reversing this process requires decisive partnership with City Hall.
We should market the Commons to suburbanites yearning for genuine human experience rather than bland shopping. And there are tourists who want to experience urban excitement. They're also looking for more than shopping. They say, 'show us how you're special.'

13. How keep downtown attractive, beautiful and safe in the midst of cuts to Police and DPW resources?
I'd start by answering the basic question: What do people really want? It might be fair to assume that what people want, especially in winter (and we have 9 chilly months here), is warmth, light, plants, color, live music, play areas, good food, sensuality, novelty, information, comfortable walking, people-watching, fellowship and companionship.
Thus to make our Commons a popular retail center, we make it a popular community center. Designed by the community (like a Leathers playground), we'd provide what people want, emphasizing features malls don't offer. So here are recommendations:
We could dome at least part of the Commons, creating an arboretum and solarium to the rooftops, within framed glass. This enclosure, featuring stained glass waterfalls at Commons entryways, including seasonal themes such as stained glass autumn leaves and snowflakes (with dramatic solar-electric spotlighting), would use double-walled heat-retaining polygel, or translucent aerogel, which could be folded back during warm weather. The roof would be pitched so that rain and melt flows dow n the stained glass waterfalls.
This budget assumes that, rather than rely primarily on government debt bonds, we'd issue "Commons Bonds," which would be redeemed for Commons goods and services. As well, I endorse a local-option gasoline tax (penny per gallon) to be applied partly to the Commons.
Likewise it assumes creative materials acquisition, and grassroots effort like that which build the Sciencenter and Farmer's Market (compensated partly with Downtown Dollars), rather than high-priced bureaucrats, consultants and contractors. Larger amounts of Ithaca HOURS could be lent at zero percent interest.
This type of financing contrasts with the $215,000 spent in 1992 to rip up Commons paving and replace it with more dull paving. For that money, dozens of local artisans could have been organized to make the Commons extravagantly beautiful.
Wherever enclosed, the Commons could provide constant activity rather than occasional festivals. With dozens of large and small events, year-round sidewalk sales, ongoing scheduled performance activity and street performers, the Commons would refill:

  • Emphasize all-year indoor/outdoor child space, with arts & crafts, and where parents shared child care time, the Commons would be swarming with parents and children. Elders could spontaneously serve as grandparents. Use glass walls as an enormous art gallery, showcasing local paintings, mobiles, and statuary. Create mosaic walkways which reflect the natural beauty of the area, designed by local artists, to replace grey pavements. Celebrate the social vitality of Ithaca by providing public tables for community organizations, and free meeting rooms.
  • Welcome local farmers to sell weekly direct from trucks.
  • Install and manage a huge community bulletin board which welcomes people to offer goods and services, and find housing and friends.
  • Install those long-overdue kiosks for public notices. The CVS blackboard should welcome grafitti.
  • Provide more basics: grocery, hardware.
  • Quit complaining about the Commons teens and organize them as performance assets. Despite appearances, some are among the area's most talented young artists, writers, scholars, acrobats and musicians. Arrange some of the benches such that people are encouraged to speak with one another. Allow dogs on leashes, and fine dog owners who don't clean up.
  • Provide a quiet room for meditation/prayer and relaxing.
  • Establish a primary medical clinic and/or Wellness Center as an anchor enterprise, for Ithaca's aging population (as a candidate for City Council in 1973, this writer proposed this clinic where Center Ithaca now stands (Journal 7/28/73).
  • Bring the State Theatre back to life. Pack that house weekly.

    By making space for everything fun and functional, we'd be making downtown an essential place to be. We'd attract not merely "shoppers," but humans who shop.

    14) Do you shop/dine/entertain downtown? For what? What is missing in downtown? What needs more attention?
    I'm on the Commons nearly daily, meeting others outdoors or in cafes, and having lunch. I've proudly brought dozens of national and international media to the Commons to talk with merchants who showcase use of Ithaca HOURS. The Commons has appeared on Good Morning America, Tokyo TV, CNN, and many others.
    The Commons needs residents on second floors, trolley/bike/pedestrian access, decorative paving, grocery store, health clinic, near-daily events, street vendors and buskers.
    Merchants will thrive by understanding that the Commons is important because it focuses our community identity. At its best, the marketplace becomes a real place, where flesh-and-blood people trade hand-to-hand the goods they've made, where they learn to trust one another, even becoming friends and lovers. Such markets are the opposite of the global economy, where people are disposable. Local economies created by the general public (such as Ithaca HOURS and the Farmer's Market) highlight our beauty as individuals. Merchants need to welcome the spirit of this can-do city to continually reshape downtown for our broader civic aims, and that it serve as an incubator for hometown creativity.

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