ITHACA, NY – On Tuesday, Michael Kuo, project manager for the Commons redesign project, guided a small audience through the timeline, the challenges and the triumphs of the commons reconstruction – complete with a number of great pictures documenting the progress from day one.

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Kuo graciously allowed us to feature his photos into a photo gallery showing just how far the Commons came in its almost three year redesign process.

Thanks to PMI Ithaca for hosting the event and Michael Kuo for his presentation and sharing his photos.

The Commons, as they were

The first photos show off the Commons of 2013, before construction started. Kuo explained that the original commons was built in 1973, and is one of a dozen pedestrian plazas left in America today.

Most Ithacans were proud of the Commons already, so why the reconstruction? In his presentation, Kuo highlighted some of the key reasons why the City wanted to renovate: including aging infrastructure (water and sewer pipes were over 100 years old), deteriorating surfaces, and a vision for revitalizing the city’s central business district.

April 2013: Familiar landmarks make their exit

The promenade is left curiously empty with some of it’s key features – and trees – removed. Kuo remarked that he was concerned people would be upset about removing the trees, but received mostly positive feedback due to the improved sight lines down the length of the Commons.

September 2013: Digging In

Perhaps a painful memory for some, as it sometimes seemed like the digging went on forever. Kuo explained: “It looked like we were digging the same thing over and over, but we had five separate utilities to install, which took two months each, for a total of ten months work.” Kuo said they dug from deepest to shallowest, installing each utility as they went.

December 2013: Construction can’t stop the Ice Festival

Kuo said the project had slipped one month behind by this point. He had hoped that, with a mild winter, they could make up for lost time. As we all know, that was not to be.

He said they had some good luck during the harsh winter season: only one pipe burst on the Commons.

Spring 2014: Back to Work

Once the weather cleared up, construction crews were back at it, doing more work on the infrastructure underneath the Commons.

June 2014: The Simeon’s Crash

Kuo said that, at first, the noise of the crash could be mistaken for the sounds of construction. The falling debris was what brought the realization that something serious had happened.

One of the pride points that Kuo brought up in his presentation was that the project was vigilant about maintaining clear pathways for emergency access. This was key to ensuring that first responders were able to reach the scene unimpeded.

Fall 2014: Coming Together

With the Commons being dug up for so many months, knowing that it was coming to an end was a relief. Kuo said, “Every slab we put down was a victorious moment, a real moment of catharsis.”

July 2015: Completion!

The bird-eye shots speak for themselves!

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.