Tompkins County Public Library
The 21st Century Library Campaign
Ithaca, N.Y. — A skateboarder hopped a curb. Two lawyers argued about Hillary Clinton. A few teenagers pushed each other as they shuffled along.
I was trying to relax Wednesday after a long day of running the Ithaca Voice. But then … I saw them, mirage-like, appear on the southern end of the pavilion. I rubbed my eyes. But this was no ruse, no William Metro-style magic trick.
There they were: Shoppers. On the Ithaca Commons. In the flesh.
It wasn’t a huge group — maybe four middle-aged women, carrying handbags like a high school football team wears its varsity jackets. But they were there, and a quick interview confirmed that they were out to shop. The weather was perfect — 68 degrees (!) — and they’d heard the construction was wrapping up. They wanted to go to a jewelry store they hadn’t been to in months.
At this point, it’s impossible to dispute that the construction has decreased pedestrian traffic downtown to at least some extent.
So let’s acknowledge the following: Business have suffered, and merchants have been hurt, by the over-budget and much-delayed project. A large number of shops continue to struggle with low pedestrian traffic. By any fair accounting of the evidence, that much is certainly true.
But here is what’s also true: On Wednesday, I left my office a block east of the Commons, stopped in for some food at the Commons Market, cashed a check at the M&T Bank, bought a book at Autumn Leaves, and then sat down to enjoy the new Bank Alley.
Bank Alley is the part of the Commons that stretches from Center Ithaca to Seneca Street. Construction crews put all but the finishing touches on the area last week, though substantial work remains to be done on the 100 and 200 blocks of the Commons (which run east to west).
Still, if the completed Bank Alley is any indication of what’s to come for the rest of the Commons, Ithaca should get excited.
First, there’s the planters — two of them already done — that give the block a park-like feel. Then there’s the neatly-placed, gently-sloping brick surface, and the admirable commemorative plaque recently dedicated by Cornell President David Skorton and Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick outside the Tompkins Trust Company building.
The Commons construction project has been painful, and devastatingly so, for many.
But as I left Bank Alley on Wednesday, I heard the Allman Brothers Band’s “Blue Sky” playing gently out a nearby window. And I thought that maybe, just maybe, downtown Ithaca has finally turned the corner — and that the Commons’ best days are coming sooner than we think.