Editor’s Note: The following is an editorial written by Jeff Stein, editor of the Ithaca Voice.
As always, we are eager to reprint alternative or dissenting viewpoints. To do so, contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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ITHACA, N.Y. — I’m probably going to get some flack for saying this. Whatever.
Here’s the truth: The new Ithaca Commons is awesome — verdant and vibrant, clean and casual, peaceful yet bustling. “Most alive I’ve seen it in 20 years,” City Court Judge Scott Miller said on Facebook.
He’s right. After three brutal years, construction on the project finally came to a conclusion this week. The fences are down, and the pavers are installed on the 200 block — meaning the entire pedestrian strip is fully, finally open.
City residents clearly didn’t need the Ithaca Voice to notice. On Friday, I went for a walk on the Commons and saw it busier than I ever have. First I passed a handful of children jostling to zip down the new playground’s slide; then I saw a few local attorneys tucking into their burritos; beyond that, a few teenagers tossed a ball around Trolley Circle.
It was a thoroughly disorienting experience: Where on Earth was I? Could this possibly be the same Ithaca Commons I’d heard so thoroughly and intensely maligned over the last several months and years? What was this thriving, happy hub of downtown life that had taken its place?
As I walked, my thoughts flashed back to a dinner I had attended in March. It was the annual banquet hosted by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, held shortly after yet another dispiriting delay had been announced in the timeline for the $15 million Ithaca Commons project.
The mood was grim. Business owners were furious over how the Commons project was handled. There had been a real and measurable corresponding decline in foot traffic downtown. Many retailers said they weren’t sure how long they’d be able to hang on.
Mayor Svante Myrick took to the front of the hall to deliver the keynote address. He recognized the frustrations as real and valid, and then turned to a quote from President Abraham Lincoln to describe what it was like to oversee the Commons project: “There were many days … that I was driven to my knees by the conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”
Woah. Maybe that was hyperbole, even for the time. But the Commons construction really was agonizing — of course, mostly for the retailers who saw revenue declines or had to close their doors for good, but also for the City Hall officials who bore the brunt of a massive (and, perhaps, sometimes excessive) public outcry.
The headlines were endless, the comments (online and in person) vicious.
Here’s a sampling, from the Ithaca Voice alone:
There was one City Hall meeting, I think in the fall, during which different residents simply took turns berating the city for its malevolent incompetence.
Some said the local officials should have turned the Commons back into State Street; others said they should stop the project altogether. One person screamed at the mayor for at least five minutes.
I won’t pretend to know, even after countless hours of reporting on the Commons project and a series of negative and critical pieces, whether something else could have been done to hasten the project along.
But I do know this: City Hall stayed the course during some very dark days, and amid some very public vitriol. The temptation to scale back the project must have been, at times, overpowering. How could it not have been?
They never did so. As frustrating as the Commons project proved, I think it’s worth remembering that the city defended the necessity of the overhaul when it seemed like the whole community had turned against it — when the renovation’s popularity had sunk lower than a Commons excavator tearing up the subsurface soil.
As I’ve written here before, the news media has a deep bias toward negativity. That includes the Ithaca Voice: It won’t be days — hours? — before we find something else to be outraged about, something else for us to scream bloody murder over.
So, for at least this one story, I’ll keep my point sweet, simple and positive: Here’s three cheers for the brilliant, beautiful new Ithaca Commons.
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