ITHACA, N.Y. — Always the municipal bridesmaid, never the bride. Yesterday, the state announced that the village of Owego would be the regional recipient of its $10 million Downtown Redevelopment Initiative grant, leaving a disappointed Ithaca in its wake once again.
This makes the third occasion in which Ithaca has been passed over for the Southern Tier’s DRI grant. The grant applications are reviewed and the prize money rewarded by Empire State Development, the state government’s economic development wing. In the first year of the contest, Elmira was the recipient of the grant, and last year, Watkins Glen was the winner.
No one is about to argue that the winners haven’t deserved it. Elmira’s economy is one of the worst-performing in the state and could use the boost, $10 million can go a lot further in little Watkins Glen than it can here, and Owego was devastated by floods brought on by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. Off record, local officials have groused that Ithaca might be a victim of its own economic success, drawing in enough outside investment that the state doesn’t feel the grant funds would be as worthwhile. It’s a belief that the Downtown Ithaca Alliance’s Executive Director Gary Ferguson quickly refuted with last year’s award, noting that the money could go a long way towards infrastructure improvements and encouraging new investment in downtown.
In a provided statement, Ferguson stated “(i)t is disappointing we are yet again a runner up. We congratulate Owego and wish them well in their effort to improve their community.”
“The projects we pitched are important for our future. Without the support of a DRI program, we will need to redouble our efforts to secure other state funding to ensure they can get completed. Rebuilding our downtown parking infrastructure, diversifying and expanding our housing opportunities, creating a community conference center, and achieving the other projects in our proposal need to happen if we are to be the millennial gateway we aspire to in our application.”
A followup article will take a closer look at the application for Ithaca, with an analysis of the “sales pitch” and the intended use of funds.