Ithaca, New York’s biggest public works project in a generation is in the home stretch. The curb-to-curb renovation of the Ithaca Commons, the economic and cultural heart of the community and one of America’s last remaining pedestrian malls, is on schedule for substantial completion on July 31. A two-day gala celebration with live music and family festivities will take place on August 28-29.
Says Tammy Baker, Outreach Coordinator for the Commons Project Team, “It’s exciting to see the plans and renderings that we’ve been working with for the past several years finally come to life. As soon as the first set of tables and chairs were unveiled, people were sitting down to eat lunch and chat with friends. And now with the trees and shrubs along the eastern end, you can really get a sense of the new Commons.”
Along with the new furniture and plantings, many other major surface elements have taken shape in the last weeks. The Trolley Circle in the center of the pedestrian mall has been completely paved and is open for pedestrian access. Between Trolley Circle and the eastern end of the Commons at Aurora Street, the pavers are 100 percent complete and the gateway arch has been erected. On Bank Alley, pavers are complete and the new Bernie Milton Pavilion is up.
Even small details are now being put in place. Several commemorative plaques have been salvaged and have been reinstalled, including the Bernie Milton and City Underfoot plaques in Bank Alley. Child of Ithaca, a sculpture by Robert Bertoia commemorating the life of Erin Schlather, has returned to the western block of the Commons. Much of the Commons has been beautifully landscaped, with flowering trees, many native perennials, and decorative railings around the planters.
Construction crews are going full steam ahead on the several remaining tasks. The concrete slabs will be finished in June and the noisy digging in front of the stores will finally come to an end. The last 25 percent of the brick pavers will then be installed, along with the last few catenary lighting spans, bench blocks, and curbs. July will see the completion of the new playground, the western gateway arch, and the roof of the Bernie Milton pavilion, as well as the replacement of the Martin Luther King, Jr. sculpture and the Sagan Planet Walk.
Gary Ferguson, Executive Director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA), is encouraged by the Project Team’s recent progress and plans for finishing up next month. “We see change daily. People are visiting downtown just to look at the progress being made. We at the DIA are full-throttle in our planning for the Commons Celebration Weekend, which commemorates not only the completion of this project but also the fortieth anniversary of the pedestrian mall.”