Ithaca, N.Y. — Mayor Svante Myrick spoke about the Ithaca Commons construction in an interview published on WHCU Radio’s website on Monday.
The city has faced criticism for the project, which has been delayed repeatedly and frustrated local merchants who say their businesses have been hurt by the disruption.
Here are 7 things we learned from Myrick’s interview:
1 — Myrick: NYSEG’s corporate office in Spain caused delays
Asked what had caused the delays to the project, Mayor Myrick said NYSEG moved much too slowly to get its part of the work completed.
This was out of the city’s hands, Myrick said.
“They weren’t working for us; they were working for a contractor,” Myrick said of NYSEG. “We told them we needed them to move faster they just couldn’t or wouldn’t do it.”
Myrick said it took months of “wrangling” to get a meeting with someone “high up” in NYSEG “to ask them to double their crews, to double their commitment to get this thing done.”
WHCU’s interviewer Lee Rayburn pushed Myrick: Could he expound on whether they didn’t work faster because they couldn’t or wouldn’t?
Myrick responded: “I’ll say the local crews couldn’t without the approval from their corporate office, which is now in Spain.”
Rayburn laughed and expressed surprise. He joked, “Do you speak Spanish?”
Myrick went on to explain that when NYSEG started a large amount of work, they only did so with “one small crew. And we said, ‘Look, you have a huge work space … you can double or triple this.’”
But, Myrick said, the office in Spain caused hold-ups. (NYSEG was acquired by a Spanish company in 2007, according to The Syracuse Post-Standard.)
“They had to put in a request with the corporate office in Spain … and that took some time to come back with approval,” Myrick said.
“…They cost us several months of prime construction season.”
2 — City denies flooding allegations
During the project, some Commons merchants complained that Ithaca’s crews had caused flooding in their stores. Myrick called the claims “serious allegations.”
To investigate, Myrick said, the city put dye into the water hitting the shops’ roofs during a storm. They discovered that this was the same water that ended up in their basement.
“What they were accusing us of was (that) we replaced their water connection and in so doing caused the leak,” Myrick said, adding that what actually happened was that crews had severed an illegal storm drain.
“It’s not the fault of the city; it’s the fault of the property owner.”
3 — Should construction crews work on weekends?
Myrick said that, so far, the crews have not been working on weekends at the merchants’ request.
“We’ve been avoiding working on the weekends because we heard from the merchants in the beginning that they’d like no movement on the weekends to allow customers to shop in a dust-free and noise-free environment,” Myrick said.
Given the length of the project, however, that may change. Myrick suggested a willingness to change this ban on weekend construction based on the feedback from some merchants.
4 — Meeting on Thursday
A meeting will be held on Thursday morning “with as many merchants as we can round up,” Myrick said.
The city will “invite them to come in and let us know how they’d like us to run this thing from here till the end,” Myrick said.
5 — Pay to park
At the City Hall meeting, several Commons merchants suggested some sort of free parking option as compensation for the effect of the construction.
Myrick said this would be difficult to manage. He made two points:
1 — In fact, more people have been parking in the city’s parking lots recently than they had been before the construction season.
2 — “You might have some people who work downtown or live downtown take up all the good spaces,” making it difficult for customers to find somewhere to park — and proving counter-productive to the shops’ goals — Myrick said.
6 — Winter work
Myrick said the city is “looking now to see what it would take to work through the winter.”
Michael Kuo, the project manager, has noted that concrete can’t be set during the frigid winter months.
But, Myrick said, the city may look at erecting the Commons pavilion in January and February.
“It’ll be cold work,” he noted, “but at least it’s possible.”
7 — The finish line!
WHCU’s Rayburn asked if August 2015 was a firm, final date for the construction project.
Myrick said he thought the date could be moved up. He said there’s “very little to no chance it could be moved back.”
“The most complicated parts are done,” Myrick said.
“What we’ve done this past year is just gargantuan.”