ITHACA, N.Y. — The History Center has submitted the first phase of plans for a Tompkins County Heritage Education Center on the Commons.

In a filing last week, The History Center (THC), in partnership with several other local non-profits, submitted an application requesting $35,500 from the County Tourism Program. The program is competitive, and THC’s proposal will be weighed against other proposals in their ability to enhance and promote tourism in Tompkins County.

As previously reported, the plan is to purchase the Tompkins Trust Building on Bank Alley once the bank’s new headquarters is completed in early 2018  and renovate the space into a history museum and county visitor’s center. As long as the engineering and code analyses are sound, a planning timeline will commence that involves architectural drawings, partnership agreements, creating marketing and branding, and launching a capital campaign to help fund the creation of the Heritage Center. The requested funds would go towards covering those early-stage development costs.

As long as the engineering and code analyses are sound, a planning timeline will commence that involves architectural drawings, partnership agreements, creating marketing and branding, and launching a capital campaign to help fund the creation of the Heritage Center. The requested funds would go towards covering those early-stage development costs.

The Heritage Center, when completed and open to the public, would have static and interactive exhibits showcasing the city and county’s 200+ years of history, a library, program space, and a small retail area. While allowing local residents to explore the history of their communities and the people that lived in them, the county-owned center will also help orient visitors to local places they can visit, with an emphasis on historic locales, officials say. A few early ideas have already been hatched for reusing the interior, like using the bank vaults for multimedia presentations.

The central location is expected to be an asset for helping introduce visitors to the county’s historic and modern offerings, and promote “heritage tourism”. The National Trust for Historic Preservation defines heritage tourism as “traveling to experience the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. It includes cultural, historic, and natural resources.” Picture the folks that travel to visit the boyhood homes of presidents, or women’s rights advocates who travel to Seneca Falls to learn more about its role in the movement.

“Given that the center will be on the Ithaca Commons, the economic benefit will come from increased visitors to that area. For example, we expect to draw students and parents from the three higher education academic institutions. For visitors seeking a unique tourism experience, they will learn more about the opportunities available and therefore better able to plan their time in the county. We expect this to become a regional destination as a gateway to what the Finger Lakes region has to offer,” says the THC in the application.

“A heritage education center will serve as a gateway to residents and tourists, allowing visitors of all ages to gain new perspectives about what being part of our community entails.”
A third objective is to have the Heritage Center function as a collaborative space for non-profits tied to historic resources. THC is promoting the archive and future offices of the Heritage Center as a co-working space that would allow partner organizations to work together more efficiently, enabling them to share the costs of administrative functions, and tackle and divvy up larger grants and projects.
Several local companies have signed on to help bring the Heritage Center forward. Those include STREAM Collaborative, who will design floor plans and drawings of the new center; The Solstice Group, which will help with fundraising and capital campaign planning; and St. John Design Group, to help formulate branding and marketing. Todd Zwigard Architects of New York City has been tapped to help design the exhibits.
If all moves ahead as planned, the silent capital campaign will launch in late spring and the formal campaign in Fall 2017.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.