ITHACA, N.Y. — Some city of Ithaca Planning and Economic Development Committee meetings are long and complex; not this month though. In fact, there was only one agenda item this month, an economic development update courtesy of Tom Knipe, the city’s Deputy Director of Economic Development. As noted by Mayor Laura Lewis (D), next month’s meeting will likely be “more robust.”

Regardless of whether its lengthy and dense, or short and approachable, the Voice is hear to give you the summary. This is a brief one, but feel free to take your coffee or tea break and dive in below. As always, for those who like the agenda PDF handy, that can be found here.

Economic Development Update

The drive for this update was the suggestion that the city Planning Department give updates on what its various staff do and what the current state of affairs are. The Office of Economic Development within the Department focuses on business retention, real estate development, business climate, policies and their impacts on economic development, and projects/funding to carry out those efforts.

An instance of its work is the Tompkins County Pandemic Recovery Plan. The Economic Development office is but one of a number of public and specialized community groups that worked on that to address the economic issues created by the pandemic, and map out an economic recovery plan to make up for the damages caused by the pandemic and its downstream effects.

On the Real Estate side, the Office of Economic Development has dedicated a good portion of its recent day-to-day work to development of a small-scale maker/manufacturer initiative, called “Made In Ithaca.” Other efforts include hospitality workforce recovery, a shared use commercial kitchen proposed on the city’s West End, and the Downtown Ithaca Conference Center to be included as part of the Asteri project on Green Street, among other initiatives in and around Ithaca.

In a piece of good news, room tax revenues are ahead of projections by about $304,000 to-date, which provides some cushioning in the budget for the conference center’s operations. Suzanne Smith Jablonski, who some readers may know as the former director of the Tompkins County Public Library Foundation, has been hired as the Executive Director for the Conference Center. Knipe touted that the Conference Center will now have an all-electric kitchen thanks to a federal grant, and it will be the first totally fossil-fuel free conference center operation in the United States, which might also prove a marketing opportunity to sustainability-focused groups.

For those who are hoping for some inside scoop on real estate project, no such luck last night. In overarching, general detail, Knipe noted focuses on the West End, Waterfront and Chainworks sites, but did not go into great detail, at least nothing that readers wouldn’t already know from scrolling through the Voice.

Questions from Council were friendly. Councilor Cynthia Brock (D-1st Ward) asked about the results of the GoIthaca Transportation Demand Management Program for Downtown, and Councilor Patrick Mehler (D-4th) asked about the wayfinding signage project in the works.

A question from councilor Rob Gearhart (D-3rd) was perhaps more of a core concern of residents – what types of projects is the Office thinking of submitting budget requests for in the upcoming year. While Knipe and Planning Director Lisa Nicholas noted there would be three requests, it’s still very early in the process. Requests from various city departments are still being finalized, and the requests have not been reviewed yet. With that, Mayor Lewis asked to defer discussion until a later date when they have specifics that have been reviewed and pass the initial review for completeness and feasibility.

With that, the meeting wrapped up in a mere 47 minutes. We’ll see if the agenda is a little meatier next month, and it sounds like it will be.

“I think this is the shortest meeting I have ever been on in eleven years,” Councilor Brock said with a laugh, the disbelief clear in her voice. “I don’t believe it! It never happens!”

“We will pay for it in July, I will tell you,” replied Lewis.

Brian Crandall

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