This week, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) announced its annual Best of Downtown Awards. Honorees were presented with plaques by DIA Board President Michael C. Cannon and Executive Director Gary Ferguson at a well-attended gala dinner featuring food from a number of downtown restaurants, a keynote speech by urban design expert Joseph Minicozzi, classic jazz music by Doug Robinson, and special presentations by DIA staff.
Retail Business of the Year went to Mockingbird Paperie. When the owners of the House of Shalimar and Ithacards stores retired last year after forty years in the business, many wondered what would become of this key downtown space. Suzanne Loesch purchased Ithacards, rebranded it as Mockingbird Paperie, enlarged its selection of fine paper products, and expanded it into the exquisitely restored former Shalimar storefront.
Economic Development Projects of the Year went to Breckenridge Place and Seneca Way. Breckenridge is the affordable housing project across from the Dewitt Mall created by Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services and PathStone. Seneca Way is the new landmark building gracing the east entrance to downtown Ithaca; built by Newman Development and Warren Real Estate, it features 38 apartments and 9,000 square feet of office space.
The Community Achievement Award went to Jean McPheeters. In her 12-year tenure as President of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, McPheeters assumed the leadership of the business community with grace, insight, and an infectious can-do attitude. McPheeters has also worked to revitalize downtown Ithaca as an active member of the DIA Board, the Commons Rebuild Committee, and the Strategic Tourism Planning Board Beautification Committee.
Emerging Business of the Year went to Norabloom Botanicals. Owned and operated by Holly Green, Norabloom offers spa services like massage therapy, facials, and nail care in addition to Green’s own signature line of paraben-free skincare products. After outgrowing a space in Fall Creek, Green rented the second floor of the Mia Building at 132 The Commons and transformed it into a striking contemporary boutique.
The Business Achievement Award went to Jennifer Engel. For more than 30 years, Engel has been a fixture in the downtown Ithaca community. She launched Cat’s Pajamas, the beloved children’s toy and clothing store in the Dewitt Mall, in 1983 and has been a tireless leader and advocate for Dewitt Mall businesses ever since. She has also regularly volunteered her time for special downtown events.
The Tourism Achievement Award went to Argos Inn. When Avi Smith returned to Ithaca five years ago, he had a vision to create an urban inn with historic character and a unique flair. Smith purchased the former Duncan Hines building at 408 East State Street and painstakingly restored its stunning architectural elements; it now features ten guest rooms and a ground-floor pub featuring live music.
City Employees of the Year went to JoAnn Cornish and Phyllisa DeSarno. Cornish serves as Director of Planning and Development for the City of Ithaca and DeSarno holds the position of Deputy Director for Economic Development. They have both worked closely with the DIA to improve downtown zoning and tax abatement policies, recruit retail tenants and developers, and advance the rebuild of the Ithaca Commons.
Volunteer of the Year went to Ashley Broadwell. Each year the Downtown Ithaca Alliance entertains over 100,000 people at its many events and festivals. A Tompkins County native and a co-owner of Ithaca Guitar Works in the Dewitt Mall, Ashley has been an indispensable sixth man for DIA special events, doing everything from coordinating midnight cleanups to serving wine to performing with his bluegrass band.
DIA Board members of the year went to Michael C. Cannon and Tanya Vanasse. A commercial banker at Tompkins Trust Company, Cannon has served in a leadership position for most of his tenure on the board and is now completing his second and final year as President. Vanasse, a longtime downtown resident, has represented that increasingly important constituency for six years, also in leadership positions.