Businesses located on the Ithaca Commons are feeling the negative effects of recent reconstruction, despite efforts by the City of Ithaca and the Downtown Ithaca Alliance to attract people to the area.
The project has recently begun its third and final stage and will be finished in November, when it’s contract runs out with Vacri Construction Corp, the company hired to carry out the new Commons plan.
Michael Kuo, Project Manager, said the main reason for the construction is to update aging infrastructure, plant new trees to improve plant health, update the streetscape, and install a new telecom system.
Many of the updates were needed because the original Commons was constructed in 1974 and parts of it were aging and overgrown, which cost a lot in maintenance fees.
“It’s really important for the livelihood and the development of the city,” Kuo said. “It was time to hit the reset button and we were fortunate to get a mix of financing from federal, state and local government, as well as contributions.”
Kuo said these updates will be beneficial for local businesses because it will create an aesthetically pleasing environment outside of their shops and will attract people to the Commons.
Businesses feel the impact
Ithaca Hemp Co, a business located on the commons, will be closing its doors on March 30, citing the construction as the cause for loss of business. Christian Diemand, founder and owner of the company, said he his store has been located in the commons for 17 years and has seen profits of 20 to 30 percent every year except last year, in which there was a 40 percent loss.
“There’s not a chance in hell we’ll survive if we wait it [the construction] out,” Diemand said.
Diemand also said his store’s basement flooded several times because water mains were being updated, which cost him a lot of money in both labor and clean up.
Jerry Martins, co-owner of Now You’re Cooking, a kitchen utensil store located on the Commons said he has seen some loss of business, but some of it could be explained by the cold winter.
Martins said he is optimistic about the outcome of the project and that construction is a necessary negative aspect of updating any location.
“We are taking out parts of the Commons people didn’t like and what we like is being kept,” Martins said
Tammy Baker, the outreach coordinator of the project, said the majority of reactions to the construction have been positive.
Baker said in an effort to minimize the impact of the construction, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance has actively been promoting the Commons through events, signage and the art located on the barriers of construction.
Diemand said tax breaks were given to property owners in the Commons, but did not really trickle down to business owners. He thinks more should have been done for the business owners because they are the ones taking serious losses from the lack of foot traffic the construction has caused.
Diemand also said the culture of the pedestrian mall is diminishing, and the construction has hit the stores located there hard.
“We [local businesses] had a real good niche down there for quite awhile,” Diemand said. “But people are not going to come back immediately, it’s going to take a few years to rebuild business down there.”