On a recent Saturday, as Ithaca celebrated the official opening of its newly designed outdoor pedestrian mall, the Commons, Mayor Svante Myrick strolled through the crowd on the plaza, collecting congratulations every few feet.
At one point, a pizza shop owner rushed out from his storefront to thank the mayor profusely, exclaiming that his business was better than ever. Myrick later confided that while the mall was under construction, “that man was one of our biggest critics.” The project took more than two years, and the businesses lining either side of the boulevard suffered. But on this sunny day, with the plaza packed with visitors, all was forgiven.
The $15.3 million makeover of the Commons, which had not changed much in the 40 years since its creation, is both emblematic of and a stimulus for the rapidly changing face of downtown Ithaca. Initiated under a previous mayor but brought to fruition under Myrick, the updated Commons has made the downtown district all the more inviting to developers, who are lining up to invest in this increasingly popular city, home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, and a darling of Best Places to Live lists.