ITHACA, N.Y. — It is, once again, not the news City of Ithaca leaders were hoping to hear. The city has yet again been overlooked for a $10 million grant for downtown improvements from the state, with the awards for the Southern Tier region going to Endicott and Norwich.
With the exception of pandemic-stricken 2020, for the past several years the state has hosted a competition for each of its ten regions, called the “Downtown Revitalization Initiative,” where incorporated municipalities vie for a $10 million grant based on some combination of the quality of the application and whatever else Empire State Development, the state’s economic development agency, is taking into consideration during the process.
This is Ithaca’s fifth attempt in the five years the competition has been running, and unfortunately despite the efforts of the proposal writers and big thinkers, Ithaca has been rejected every single time. Perhaps extra insult to injury is that the state offered each region up to two $10 million awards this year, and Ithaca still failed to win either one.
Also in the running this year alongside Ithaca and the winning applications from Endicott and Norwich was a joint application from Margaretville/Roxbury. Ithaca’s application stated that the funds would have been leveraged to support $147 million worth of infrastructure, economic development and amenity investments across 23 projects. As always, the Voice will take a deeper dive into Ithaca’s application in a follow-up article.
In the first year of the contest in 2016, Elmira was the recipient of the grant, and in 2017, Watkins Glen was the winner. In 2018, the funds were awarded to the Village of Owego. 2019’s winner was Hornell.
Ithaca’s lack of success in being awarded the DRI grant has been attributed at least in part to the city being a victim of its own success, as a comparatively prosperous community in a region where many villages and cities have suffered from long-term neglect and disinvestment.
Still, that feels like weak consolation for a 0-for-6 track record in applying for state dollars, especially since Ithaca’s tourism and education-heavy economy was battered particularly hard by the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s nothing that stops the City of Ithaca from pursuing other funding sources to try and make those desires transportation and utility and economic improvements, but the state’s repeated rejection certainly stings. Lady Fortune has turned its back on the city once again.