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THE DOWNTOWN ITHACA
BASIC TEXT AND GRAPHICS ONLY
(rough draft for public discussion)
(A plan for the Revitalization, Development, Management, and
Promotion of the Downtown Ithaca Business Improvement District
for the period 2010 – 2020)
The Downtown Ithaca Alliance
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Executive Highlights 3
Introduction & History of Downtown Strategic Planning 5
Methodology 7 Page | 2
Strategy Context and Foundation
Summary of Quantitative Goals 9
Community Affirmations: What We Believe about Downtown 10
Key Survey Findings: 2008/2009 11 Key Guiding Downtown Planning Principals 12 Downtown Ithaca: The Big Ideas 13 Downtown Character 18
The Concept of Pedestrian Traffic Generators 22 Guiding Downtown Growth 24
Proposed Amendments to Downtown Zoning 33 Downtown’s Commitment to Alternative Transportation 36
Downtown & Diversity 38
Sector Goals, Strategies, and Action Items
The Ithaca Commons 39
Downtown Retail 41
Downtown Housing 44
Downtown Office Sector 47
Downtown Entertainment 49
Cultural Arts 51
Enhancing the Downtown Environment 54 Other Downtown Infrastructure (Non-Commons) 56 Tourism and Visitors 58
Transportation & Parking 60
Serving Youth 64
Serving Seniors 65
The Role of Higher Educational Institutions 66 Working with Other Districts 68
Historic Preservation 70
Downtown as a Regional Center 72 Marketing Downtown in the Years Ahead 75
Summary & Future Steps
What’s at Stake? 76
Defining the Roles for Strategic Plan Implementation 79
Page | 3 STRATEGIC PLAN EXECUTIVE HIGHLIGHTS
1. Downtown’s strength lies in its diversity of people. Downtown will be successful if it is able to fully
actualize this commitment to diversity. There should be an ongoing commitment to diversity in
downtown programs, policies, and actions that permeate every sector and every activity. 2. Downtown Ithaca must maintain its regional share of retail activity. To accomplish this, downtown will
add 90,000 square feet of new retail during the period 2010 – 2020.
3. Downtown Ithaca must maintain its regional share of office space. To accomplish this, downtown will
add another 200,000 square feet of new office space during the period 2010 -2020.
4. Downtown Ithaca is one of the primary centers for new housing development in both the City and the
region. During the period 2010 – 2020 downtown will seek to add between 300-500 units of urban
5. Seek to fully utilize Six Mile Creek by developing a trail into the gorge and making downtown the hub for
6. Continue a program of new in-fill development and redevelopment of current low-density sites. Based
on a volumetric study conducted in 2008/9, it is projected that during the period 2010 -2020 the
downtown could potentially attract up to 10 new projects totaling at least 500,000 square feet of space
and a projected investment of at about $100 million.
7. During the period 2010 – 2020, downtown Ithaca will look to meet its new development parking needs,
first and foremost, through attention to walking, bicycling, and other alternative transportation modes. 8. This plan relies on a dense urban core tempered with a pedestrian friendly street-level environment. 9. This strategic plan calls for the recruitment and placement of at least ten (10) new pedestrian foot traffic
generating projects to be located in downtown during the period 2010 -2020.
10. This strategic plan calls for a careful review and possible realignment of downtown parking management
and Commons maintenance.
11. This plan proposes a program to undertake opportunistic land banking of key downtown properties. 12. This strategic plan calls for amendments to current downtown zoning to improve the viability of key
downtown parcels for future in-fill and redevelopment activity.
13. This strategic plan calls for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance to work collaboratively with other commercial
districts on issues and programs of mutual interest.
14. This plan calls for the creation of new and improved transportation links between downtown and
Cornell University/Collegetown as well as Ithaca College, including possible enhanced shuttle service and
possible fixed rail service.
15. This plan calls for the review and improvement of financial tax abatement incentives to assist downtown
projects to meet and fill funding gaps.
16. This plan calls for the creation of additional meeting and conference space to help attract small and mid-
sized conferences to the community, perhaps in conjunction with the State Theater. 17. This plan calls for the addition of a fourth hotel project during the period 2010 - 2020. 18. This plan calls for the City and County to explore the concept of a new joint City of Ithaca/ Tompkins
County Administration building to be located in downtown.
19. This strategic plan calls for the community to work closely with the institutions of higher education to
partner with future downtown projects during the period 2010 – 2020.
20. This plans calls for the community to collaborate on the creation of a downtown teen activity center. 21. This plan suggests exploring the modification of the 100 West State and 300 East State blocks for
inclusion into the pedestrian mall and/or periodic temporary closure to accommodate special events
and community activities. Page | 4
INTRODUCTION & HISTORY OF DOWNTOWN STRATEGIC PLANNING
The Ithaca Downtown Partnership created the first Downtown Strategic Plan in 2000. Known as the “Downtown Page | 5 Ithaca Development Strategy: 2000 – 2010”, this document was a distillation of existing reports and studies that had been undertaken in the previous decade, studies dealing with such subjects as the retail market, downtown design, and Commons improvement. The 2000 Development Strategy provided numeric goals for retail space, office space, and new housing units. It introduced entertainment, cultural arts, and tourism as key elements of a downtown strategy. It provided a blueprint for growth and development in downtown, offering investors and residents alike a vision of the future. This Strategy was subsequently revised in 2004. The revised Strategy added sections on historic preservation and downtown character. It also revised upward key housing goals.
Since the first strategic plan was prepared in 2000 both downtown and the Ithaca community have experienced substantial change. Downtown has added significant new private and public investment. Over $100,000,000 was invested in downtown during this period, most likely the largest decade of investment in the history of downtown. This downtown growth provided 150,000 square feet of new office space, increasing the 2000 supply by 50%. This growth added over 225 new units of downtown housing, again increasing the 2000 supply by well over 50%. Downtown grew upward, as new buildings sought to fill out allowable zoning heights.
But downtown was not the only place growing during the decade of 2000 – 2010. Much of the new commercial
development in the County occurred along State Route 13 in both the City of Ithaca and the Village of Lansing. An initiative to open the southwest portion of the City to big box development resulted in the construction of about 800,000 square feet of new retail development, including a Wal-Mart, Lowes, Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Home Depot. In Lansing, new big box stores included Target, Dicks, Best Buy, and Borders. Well over 1,200,000 square feet of new retail development was added to the community outside of downtown, nearly all within a five mile drive. A new 14-plex movie theater was added at the Pyramid Mall. The Mall subsequently changed its name to the “Shops at Ithaca” in an effort to re-position itself in the regional
marketplace. New hotel lodging was added along major arterials- in the village of Lansing (Homewood Suites), the town of Ithaca (Country Inn and Suites), and along Route 13 in Ithaca (Hampton Inn).
Cornell University commissioned its own long term strategic master plan to help guide it in the next 50 years. This plan identified the East Hill Plaza area in the Town of Ithaca as a preferred major residential, office, and commercial growth node for the University. Several years prior to the Cornell master plan, Ithaca College undertook its own planning process for the future of the College. The plan focused growth and development within the South Hill campus.
These changes and these plans fundamentally change the dynamics of the Ithaca community. They affect where and how people journey to work. They affect where and how people shop, recreate, and chose to entertain themselves. They affect how people use their community and their downtown.
The future of downtown is shaped by such decisions. Decisions by past generations to build a Route 13 by-pass, to relocate Ithaca College to South Hill, to build a new hospital on West Hill, to relocate the community Post Office to Warren Road, to locate museums and venue venues in scattered locations throughout the County, and to open up the Route 13 Southwest park area to big box development all had impacts and consequences on the way Ithaca grew and was used by area residents.
Recognizing the extensive changes that were occurring through the City and the County in the past decade, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance Board of Directors authorized a process to create a new strategic plan. This plan was to take these many changes and trends into consideration and prepare recommendations that would address this new community landscape.
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This plan is intended to provide the downtown, City, and greater Ithaca community with a blueprint for the future. It outlines the goals and tasks that should be undertaken to ensure that downtown Ithaca will be a strong, vibrant, dynamic, and sustainable district in he year 2020 and beyond. It provides a vision and blueprint of what could be possible for downtown if the needed community resources and will are applied to the City center over the period 2010 – 2020. It is also intended to be the area plan for the downtown district that will be part of the City’s formal Comprehensive Plan being redone by Parsons-Brinckerhoff.
Downtown strategic plans draw their inspiration from the passion, opinions, and dreams of the community. Page | 7 Downtown is the heart and soul of the Ithaca community, the geographic center and historic nexus of commerce and community life. Downtowns are successful when they are used… when people choose to live, work, shop, dine, and play in them. A downtown strategic plan needs to seek out and articulate the desires, wants, and needs of its community.
This Downtown Ithaca 2020 Strategic Plan was developed after extensive input and conversation with the downtown, City, and greater Ithaca community, the people who will ultimately determine the success of downtown Ithaca. Beginning in 2008, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance systematically undertook a series of community conversations to collect input and thoughts about the future of downtown. This input was obtained in several ways:
(1) Scientific Surveys: To better understand the changing marketplace, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance
worked with WB&A Market Research, a private survey research firm with offices in downtown Ithaca, to
conduct two statistically significant surveys… one of the Tompkins county marketplace and one of
external major metropolitan areas that serve as sources of downtown Ithaca visitors and tourists. These
studies gauged market trends and public perceptions of downtown and helped to shape some of the
findings and recommended action items.
(2) Community Survey: The Downtown Ithaca Alliance sponsored its own community input survey during six
months in 2009 designed to give residents an opportunity to register their opinions and thoughts about
downtown Ithaca present and in the future. Over250 surveys were completed on-line or using paper
forms that were later converted to electronic format. While this exercise was not intended to offer
scientific results, it provided additional insight into the opinions of people who were committed and
interested enough to take the time to complete the survey questionnaire.
(3) Outreach Meetings with Interested Community Groups & Organizations: During a yearlong period
spanning 2008 and 2009, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance conducted conversational visits and meetings
with nearly two dozen groups and organizations interested in the future of downtown. A list of these
groups in included in the appendix. Hundreds of participants were asked to reflect on their vision for
downtown in the years ahead. They identified issues and challenges to addressed and opportunities to
(4) Meetings with Downtown Stakeholders: Several meetings were held in the downtown for BID
stakeholders to provide their vision for downtown in the year 2020.
(5) Public Meetings: A formal public input meeting was held at the Tompkins County Public Library in 2009
to solicit input from public members who had not already had an opportunity to express their thoughts 7
and ideas. Participants were asked to both provide oral and written comments on a wide range of topics
that would be addressed in the 2020 Strategic Plan.
(6) Use of Existing and Former Plans:
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(a) In 2007, the City of Ithaca, working with the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, contracted with Toronto based
Urban Marketing Collaborative to produce a Downtown Retail Market Study. This study examined the
retail landscape and determined that downtown was able to support an additional 95,000 SF of new
retail space. The report also discussed factors and issues that would affect the health and vitality of
retail in downtown. Findings from this report were used in shaping the recommendations in this
(b) In 2008 and 2009, Cornell MPA graduate student Brianna Olson authored a Volumetric Study of
Downtown Ithaca. This study was designed to assess the opportunity for future growth in the BID and
surrounding downtown blocks. The results of this study helped to verify the capacity of downtown to
physically accept additional residential and office development. The analysis also underscored the
importance of downtown maintaining and growing its base of consumers and patrons from throughout
(c) The existing Downtown Development Strategy: 2000 -2010 and the City of Ithaca Zoning Code were also
used as benchmark documents for this Plan.
This 2020 Strategic Plan has been compiled and prepared by the staff of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance. The DIA Board of Directors took an active role in the drafting process, participating in a half-day retreat aimed at establishing broad goals and big ideas. The Board of Directors also reviewed recommendations section by section over four different meetings. To help provide a visual context for the Plan, Holt Architects was retained to provide drawings to illustrate development opportunities and key concepts.
The DIA Board of Directors has authorized the Plan to be released in draft form to the public for presentation and feedback. Input from public presentation sessions will be used to further revise the plan prior to it being finalized for approval by the DIA Board of Directors and subsequently sent to the City for its review and approval.
A SUMMARY OF QUANTITATIVE GOALS
IN THE 2020 STRATEGIC PLAN
Page | 9 New Downtown Retail Space Goals (2010-2020) 78,000 SF
Ongoing Retail Occupancy Rate 95%
Additional new National Retailers (2010-2020) 2-4
New Downtown Office Space Goals (2010-2020) 200,000 SF
Number of Possible New Office Buildings (2010-2020) 1-2
New Downtown Employee/Job Goals (2010-2020) 600
New Downtown Housing Unit Goals (2010-2020) 500
New Downtown Residents Goals (2010-2020) 750
Total SF of In-Fill & Redevelopment Space Possible 1,430,000 SF
Desired New Projects (2010-2020) Modernized/Updated Commons
Expanded Commons to 100 W. State Block
Downtown Business Incubator
Iconic Art at Entrances to the Commons
Six Mile Creek Walk
Downtown Multi-Use/Meeting Center
Joint Community/University Downtown Welcome
1-2 additional Hotels
Fixed Rail Trolley/Shuttle to Collegetown
Teen/Youth Activity Center
Restored State Theatre
COMMUNITY AFFIRMATIONS: WHAT WE BELIEVE
; Downtown Ithaca is the physical, economic, cultural, social, and emotional center of our community.
Page | 10 ; Strengthening and maintaining a strong and vibrant Downtown Ithaca is a worthy community goal
that will require community resources and attention.
; There will be times when Downtown Ithaca will require extra-ordinary attention and resource
allocation to ensure that it can meet the goals and objectives set by this strategy. The community
affirms that there will be occasions when supporting a strong and vibrant downtown will necessitate
such extra-ordinary attention and resource allocation.
; Downtown is a primary place in our community where we would like to continue to grow and
; We seek a downtown that has a unique character and feel: one that blends together distinctive yet
functional architecture with street-level pedestrian-oriented commerce, and both automotive and
public transit access with pedestrian friendly spaces and a strong, independent business community.
; Downtown is an inclusive and inviting place for all and we will ensure that policies and resources
exist to reinforce this goal.
; As hard as we try, downtown cannot be all things to all people. There are too many other market-
driven options. Downtown must choose where and how it wants to compete in the marketplace.
; Downtown is inseparably linked to the neighborhoods of Ithaca and to other commercial districts as
well the County as a whole.