ITHACA, N.Y. — There are currently 10 construction projects happening near the intersection of College Avenue and Dryden Road in Collegetown, making navigating the area by vehicle a nightmare and worrying business owners that the already slow summer season will be even worse than usual for them.
In steps the pop-up park that opened at the intersection Tuesday — an array of temporary lawn games, a bocce court and tables with chairs meant for outdoor dining and relaxing. Soon, organizers hope to arrange live music and an outdoor movie screening in the space.
It’s a heck of an ambitious project that has been in the works for only about two weeks. The street closure began June 13 and is expect to last about seven weeks.
“Business is already very slow in Collegetown during the summer so I was aware of that,” said volunteer organizer Vicki Taylor Brous, whose husband owns Collegtown Bagels and Rulloff’s Restaurant and Bar. “We realized it was going to have a huge impact on business to close College Avenue.”
She and other business owners began working in collaboration with the city, specifically fourth ward alderperson Stephen Smith, to figure out a way to entice people to come to the area.
“Right now, we have a space we are actively avoiding,” Smith said.
One person said to him that the construction in the are is “controlled chaos.” But Smith said people in the area don’t want controlled chaos in their neighborhood and businesses are taking a financial hit from it.
So he and Taylor Brous began swapping ideas: What could they quickly in the space that people would enjoy? What could be planned for the space later? Who would pay for it?
Smith said he worked with the city to budget $5,000 for the project. The Tompkins Trust Company was also recruited as a sponsor, and proposals to Cornell University and local businesses are also in the wings.
“We kind of joked about it being like a lemonade park. We are making lemonade out of a complete lemon,” Taylor Brous said.
She said that being in the space is uncanny — what is usually one of the busiest places in the city has calmed and has a different feel. While there are some construction noises, she said it;s not particularly loud, and construction doesn’t continue into the evening.
Smith said one of the events he hopes to feature during the park’s tenure is a showing of the 1968 movie “Bullitt,” featuring Steve McQueen.
The movie depicts car chases through hilly San Francisco — something the city has in common with Ithaca.
“I think that would be a really cool experience,” Smith said, noting the likeness between the two cities and the fact that people would be sitting in a street between tall buildings while watching it.
The project, Taylor Brous added, is also acting as a springboard for the The Collegetown Business Association. Like the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, the association would work with officials to advocate for residents and business owners in the area to have a more organized voice when it comes to the goings-on of Collegetown.
Parking near the park is located in the Dryden Road garage. Below is a detour map for Collegetown released two weeks ago: