The Ithaca Commons is a two-block pedestrian mall in downtown Ithaca, New York, built in 1974. Its boundaries are Green Street to the south, Cayuga Street to the west, Seneca Street to the north, and Aurora Street to the east. It sits at the intersection of Tioga and State Streets. Shops, galleries, restaurants, and bars line either side of the Commons, while the walkway is dotted with trees, benches and sculptures. It serves as the center of the central business district for the Tompkins County area.
The Commons is the center of Ithaca and Tompkins County civic life. The City and Town Hall abut the Commons, and the local state representatives have their offices on or adjacent to it. Many of the stores have apartments on their second and third floors. Ithaca's library is within walking distance. During the summer months, local entertainers and theater groups put on free performances at the 3 covered pavilions on the Commons. The stages are also utilized for many politically inspired protests and speeches.
The Commons hosts several festivals throughout the year. The main festival, the Ithaca Festival in the summer, is centered on the Commons for 2 of its three days. Traditionally, the final day of the festival is at Stewart Park on the Cayuga Lake waterfront. Two relatively new festivals which have found a home on the Commons are the Apple Harvest Festival in the Fall and Chili Cook-Off in the Winter.
The Sagan Planet Walk, named after famed Cornell University astronomer Carl Sagan, begins in the Commons and stretches 3/4 mile from the Commons through downtown Ithaca to the Sciencenter. The Planet Walk traces a to-scale path of the solar system, including colorful pictures and facts about the planets.
The Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, or TCAT, bus network's main hub is located just off the south-west corner of The Commons on Green Street near the library. With few exceptions, most routes originate, terminate, or stop at Green Street, which is also a frequent connection point between the various routes.
See a live view of the "Bernie Milton Pavilion" in the center of the Commons on the Commons Cam website run by, local creative design agency, AWP.
The Downtown Ithaca Alliance
The Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA), also known as the Ithaca Downtown Business Improvement District, is a State of New York chartered not-for-profit organization charged with the revitalization, development, promotion and management of downtown Ithaca.
The DIA has adopted the following vision statement to guide its work and operation: “Downtown Ithaca is the economic, social, and cultural heart of Tompkins County. The Ithaca Downtown Partnership will strive to preserve and develop the central downtown core as the region’s center for banking and finance, business and professional offices, government and community services, downtown residences, and as a retail destination highlighted by specialty shops, restaurants, arts and entertainment. Downtown serves people who live and work downtown, city and county residents, college communities, area visitors and tourists."
Founded in 1997, the DIA is governed by a 22 member Board of Directors. (see external links below). There are 19 voting members and 3 non-voting ex officio members.
The DIA has prepared and approved a “Downtown Ithaca 2020 Strategic Plan”. This strategic plan provide the blueprint and guidelines for downtown development from 2010-2020. Each annual work plan addresses a portion of this strategic plan.
The Commons was created in 1974, in part to counteract a proposed mall to have been located where the Wegmans and Wal-Mart plazas are located approximately 2 miles southwest of the Commons.The name The Commons was the winning entry in a community-wide “name the mall” contest, and a prize of $1,000 in cash and gift certificates went to Ithaca High School senior Bill Ryan who had entered the name after a visit to the Boston Common. This was a time that many small towns in the United States were experimenting with creating pedestrian malls. The Ithaca Commons is one of the few such experiments that remains. It faced immediate competition, with the Ithaca area's first mall opening the same decade in the neighboring village of Lansing.
Together with the rest of Upstate New York, the Commons suffered in the late 1990s with many empty storefronts, and former Ithaca Mayor Alan Cohen (owner of a restaurant located on the Commons) proposed removing the Commons and opening up the two-block portion of State Street to automobile traffic once more.
In recent years, however, the Commons has been relatively prosperous, perhaps due to the growing county economy, one of the few growing economies in Upstate New York. Thanks in part to a controversial density incentive program, much of the new development in Ithaca has centered on a small radius around the Commons. One of the most recent projects completed was Seneca Place, a multistory mixed use building, incorporating retail, office space, and a Hilton Garden Inn hotel. The Cayuga Green project has brought the Commons area a new multi-level parking garage, and phase two of the project will bring a luxury apartment complex and a multiplex movie theater. Another luxury apartment building, Gateway Apartments, was recently completed.
The Commons has managed to survive despite the lack of a traditional retail anchor. After Rothschilds (a local department store) closed in the early 1980s, the closing of the McCurdy's store in the same location in the mid-1990s, the closing of a Woolworths store one block away in the late 1990s, and again after a CVS store closed a decade later, the Commons' demise was predicted. While the demise has not happened, it remains an eclectic mix of small businesses, mostly specialty stores, head shops, bars, used book stores and restaurants, while everyday retail stores have located to a commercial strip on the southwest edge of the city. The Commons and the immediate area once hosted department stores, but all closed by the late 1990s. While the Commons has, off and on, been the location for chain stores, it remains mostly independent. The former McDonalds in the center of the Commons closed in the early 1990s and remained vacant for almost a decade (it now hosts a sports bar). However, in 2006, the Ithaca area's first Starbucks opened adjacent to the Commons, and a Subway opened as well. The Commons also hosts a Ten Thousand Villages, a smaller chain store selling only fair-trade gifts. In early 2009, A Gimme! Coffee opened up opposing Starbucks for a fierce competition of the business coffee market.