File photo of construction on the Commons

Editor’s Note: This column was written by Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.

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Why I Shop Downtown

Maybe we have seen the end of the blistering cold. Ithacans have earned their stripes this year, putting up with frigid weather and snow. Key West we aren’t.

But, Daylight Savings Time is upon us and the sun keeps feeling warmer by the day. It won’t be long before 30’s turn into 50’s, snow piles turn into puddles, pussy willows bloom and daffodils spring out of our flower beds.

Here in Downtown Ithaca we too have weathered winter and are awaiting an exciting 2015 year.

Commons work to accelerate

Bank Alley is partially open— the pavers are mostly installed and the area is walkable.  Even new light poles have been installed. While fences remain in place on the Commons proper, the pedestrian walkways remain smoothed and easy to navigate.

As work begins, look for the crews to finish Bank Alley, then tackle the east end of the Commons, and finally end up on the western block.

Work will all be surface level— visible and easy to follow. As the work progresses, you should be able to get around to all the stores and eateries without trouble. The new Bernie Milton Pavilion should be ready for use at the Ithaca Festival and the summer concert series.

File photo of construction on the Commons

If everything goes as projected the Commons work will be finished by mid-summer. The Downtown Ithaca Alliance has actually scheduled the official Commons Re-Opening Festivities weekend for August 28-29.

Bookmark that date — it will be a memorable and fun community celebration.

What else is going on with downtown?

But that is not all that has been going on.

The long awaited Marriott Hotel is now under construction. This 159 room full service hotel will anchor the east end of the Commons— next to our popular Madeline’s restaurant. Good news for motorists and pedestrians— the Marriott project is contained on its site and will not impede vehicular or pedestrian traffic.

Diagonally across the street, the Carey Building, home to REV, the new community business incubator, is beginning its project to add an additional five stories—one for incubator expansion and four for new housing.

Immediately adjacent to the Carey Building is the proposed location for the new Canopy by Hilton Hotel project. Canopy by Hilton is a brand new boutique hotel line introduced by Hilton and Ithaca will be one of eleven cities worldwide to receive one. If all permitting and tax approvals are obtained in a timely fashion, construction should begin later this year.

Both the Carey and the Canopy projects will be staged on-site and should not affect traffic in any measurable way.

Renderings for the planned Carey Building project a block east of the Ithaca Commons

Tucked behind the Cayuga Street Garage and Tompkins County Public Library is the Lofts at Six Mile Creek project. All winter long crews have been building 45 units of new housing into the seven story steel frame. When it is completed this spring, Lofts at Six Mile Creek will provide an exciting and attractive new place urban living, overlooking Six Mile Creek and our urban creek walk.

If you haven’t visited Coltivare yet, be sure to make it one of your downtown destinations in the weeks and months ahead. The Culinary Art Center is a project of TC3 and offers a bold and lively venue to for dining, special events, and culinary education.

See related: In sweeping speech, Mayor Myrick says new Commons will be best downtown in U.S.

Within the last few days yet another downtown project has been announced.

Tompkins Financial, the parent company of Tompkins Trust Company, announced plans to construct a new 60,000+ SF office headquarters building on East Seneca Street between the Dewitt Mall and Seneca Place.

Supporting Downtown Ithaca

Of course, Downtown is home to some 80 retail, 50 service and 55 eating and drinking establishments as well as well over 250 office and professional businesses. Every day, winter or summer, they are open to serve you and our community.

They have not only weathered the cold and snow, but the intense Commons construction over the past two years. As we move into the final phase of that construction, remember to pay a visit to your favorite downtown businesses.

If you are unaware of what downtown has to offer, go to and learn about the vast array of goods and services that await you in our center city. We know that when you shop or dine locally your impact to the community is magnified.  Now, more than ever, your patronage of our downtown businesses will make a difference.

Communities all across the country are hard at work rebuilding their downtowns because a strong downtown is synonymous with a healthy, vibrant, and desirable place to live. Here in Ithaca we too are hard at work, building a downtown that will be an asset for our community for decades to come.

This is smart and sustainable development, located in the core of the city where we can take advantage of both density and public transportation.  As we add new housing and lodging, and increase our retail and office opportunities, we are creating a dynamic place where locals and visitors come together to experience our community at its best.

This long winter has been anything but still here in downtown. As we blossom into spring, come on down and experience our growing, evolving downtown and help propel us to a strong, sustainable future.

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Jeff Stein

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