Ithaca, N.Y. — A leader in Tompkins County governance has died at the age of 84, according to the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Stuart Stein was a Tompkins County legislator for two decades and served as the legislature’s chair.

Stuart Stein died at 84. Photo credit: Ithaca/Tompkins CVB.

Stein also taught in Cornell’s Department of City and Regional Planning, served on Ithaca’s Common Council and won the Howard Cogan Tourism award — which honors those who have contributed to local tourism — in 2008.

“If it weren’t for him, the Commons would not exist,” said Bruce Stoff, executive director of the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

A story on the website of Cornell’s Department of CRP about Stein states:

“Coming to Ithaca did not mean sinking into quiet small town life. The first year (Stein) was asked by the City Planning Board to come up with a way to save the city’s decaying downtown. 

He and three other planning professors formed their own firm for this one project, and, working out of a downtown office, developed a plan for what was to become the Commons, a pedestrian mall that still remains at the heart of Ithaca’s thriving city center.

He remained actively involved in numerous elected and appointed positions, including being chair of the New York State Board on Historic Preservation and of the Tompkins County Legislature.”

The following excerpt comes from a story written about Stein by the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau in 2008.

An Ithaca resident since 1962, Stein enjoyed a 31-year career as professor of city and regional planning at Cornell.

After serving on the Ithaca City Council in the 1970s, he was elected to the Tompkins County legislature in 1981. He served 20 years on the legislature, including three years as chair, during which he was a vocal proponent of the economic and social benefits of increased local tourism. He also held board-level positions in almost a dozen local, state and national organizations promoting urban planning, economic development, historical preservation and tourism.

In 1986, Stein spearheaded the adoption of a countywide hotel room tax to provide dedicated, consistent funding for tourism programs. He was instrumental in subsequent “Home Rule” legislation that ensured the new tax revenue would benefit residents and visitors alike by supporting a vibrant infrastructure of festival events, arts organizations and museums while marketing the area to travelers.

As chair of the Strategic Tourism Planning Board, Stein leads a volunteer organization that advises county government on tourism and recommends allocation of room tax funds through the Tompkins County Tourism Program. More than 400 projects and local organizations have been funded by the tourism program since its inception.

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.