ITHACA, N.Y. — Rob Geahart says he had a “wake-up call” when Ithaca’s historic Strand Theater closed its doors for good before being demolished in 1993.
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Gearhart, who had come to this town as an Ithaca College student in 1978 and never really left, had seen a few shows at the theater. “It was a wake-up call not just to preserve those spaces but to have them become a functioning part of the community,” he says.
Gearhart now sits on the Board of Directors for the State Theatre of Ithaca. He says his love of the State helps explains his attachment to Ithaca — and, by extension, his recent decision to run for to represent Ithaca’s Third Ward on Common Council. (The Third Ward covers primarily the Belle Sherman and Bryant Park neighborhoods, as well as parts of Cornell’s campus.)
Gearhart gave three primary reasons for supporting the State: 1) Its work to promote the arts and music in Ithaca; 2) The historic preservation of the theater, which was first built in 1928; and 3) The importance of the theater as “an economic engine” for downtown Ithaca and the surrounding community.
Gearhart, 55, appears to be running for the Third Ward seat unopposed, and has been endorsed by local Democrats for the seat. (Common Council member Ellen McCollister will be leaving Council after a long tenure in City Hall.)
In an interview on Wednesday, Gearhart spoke about why he wants to represent the Third Ward on Council and about his journey to Ithaca.
Here are a few takeaways from our interview:
1) Personal background
Gearhart is currently the assistant provost for online learning and extended studies at Ithaca College.
He has lived in the Third Ward for 16 years and has lived in four of the five city wards over the last 36 years, he says.
2) Thoughts on development
“I don’t think I would say the growth is too fast,” Gearhart says of the much-discussed city building boom. “I think we need to recognize that we’re an attractive place to be, so growth is inevitable.”
Gearhart also spoke of the importance of creating financial incentives to alleviate the financial burden of housing at all price levels.
Gearhart also addressed two specific projects:
A) The Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services’ 210 Hancock Street proposal. “From an outside perspective, it seems like a project that will foster smart growth and development,” he says;
B) An 11-story proposal for the Trebloc site in downtown Ithaca. Gearhart said the location — at the core of the city — seemed to be a good choice for high density projects, but also expressed the need to evaluate its impact on parking and traffic infrastructure.
3) Support for mayor
Gearhart said he thought Mayor Svante Myrick had done a good job and earned the trust of the city’s residents. Gearhart said that while canvassing in various neighborhoods, he heard from those who had not voted for Myrick four years ago but had come to be persuaded that the young mayor is committed to helping the community.
4) Family in Ithaca
Gearhart’s wife works as a fundraiser in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology; his son, a recent Ithaca High School graduate, is a junior at Cornell.
“Now that I’m not driving my son to lacrosse and hockey games around upstate New York,” he says, “I get to do things like be on the State Theatre board — and run for Common Council.”
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