The week of July 1, 2013 marks the completion of Phase One of the Ithaca Commons rebuild project. This phase, involving the removal of above-ground structures on the pedestrian mall, began in April and will now end about 10 days ahead of schedule. This milestone signals the one-third point in this major community undertaking and also means the end of the noisy demolition period of the construction project.
Visitors to the Commons are now able to get a sense of the spacious new design, featuring an open center that allows for uninterrupted sightlines and ample room for foot traffic, greenery, seating, and new pedestrian amenities. Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) Executive Director Gary Ferguson comments, “Scores of people have commented on how open and inviting the Commons space has become. The architecture is now showcased. The whole Commons area feels more inviting. This is a point in the project where the public can experience something new and different.”
Tourists and locals alike have also been captivated by the plywood fencing surrounding the construction site, which was transformed over a period of three weeks into over 300 painted murals in one of the region’s largest public art projects on record. Featuring a diverse range of work by student, amateur, and professional artists from Ithaca and beyond, the mural project is an impressive showcase of the community’s creative energy and resourceful spirit. The Downtown Ithaca Alliance held a formal unveiling on June 21 to recognize all participants and present prizes to a number of contest winners, including Best in Show recipient Joshua McCown, whose piece can be seen outside the Bank of America building on Bank Alley.
Many Commons merchants have reported that interest in downtown’s changing streetscape has translated into ringing registers. Ken Jupiter, owner of 15 Steps, reported, “Going into construction, we prepared for the worst but I am grateful to say that we have just completed our best June in 31 years. The construction crew has done a wonderful job and I’m also very pleased with the Project Team and the DIA’s mitigation plan.” Peter Parkes of Benjamin Peters has also been encouraged by the foot traffic this spring: “People see the Commons as an attraction – it just so happens the attraction right now is a construction site surrounded by wonderful murals!”
There will be a three-week hiatus in July with no construction on the Commons before the start of Phase Two, which will focus on the installation of underground utilities. In preparation, the City of Ithaca has hired a Resident Engineer, Jessica Buckley, who joins Project Manager Michael Kuo and Outreach Coordinator Tammy Baker in the Commons Project Office. Buckley explains, “Phase Two will take us below the surface of the Commons to the intricate network of utilities that provide our everyday services. This is a once-in-a-generation event and it will be a sight to see: excavation of trenches up to ten feet deep, installation of the City’s water main and other essential infrastructure – lots of movement and excitement.”
During this phase, building owners will have the opportunity to replace their water service lines to support automatic sprinkler systems and take advantage of further upgrades in sewer, natural gas, and telecommunications systems. Phase Two is expected to continue into late November, to be followed by a construction furlough to allow for inclement weather and an unimpeded holiday shopping season. Construction of the streetscape is expected to commence in March 2014 with a completion scheduled for late July 2014.
The Commons Project Office, located at 215 The Commons, maintains a website that includes construction updates and contact information at http://www.ithacacommons.info. The Downtown Ithaca Alliance, with offices at 171 The Commons, has also recently launched a blog to highlight a variety of other downtown projects, businesses, and events at http://www.downtownith.com.