Our Website, Our Way of Life

Six Ways to Safely Get Outside in Twain Country

Warm weather has arrived! If you are tired of hunkering down, there are limited, but growing, options to venture outdoors as the S. Tier begins to open up! Be sure to follow current CDC recommendations on social distancing and masks.

1 Shop a Farmers Market & Meet the Farmers

While not all farmers markets are open yet, the year-round market at Chamberlain Acres is available on Sundays from 11-3, providing local meat, cheese, coffee, honey, eggs, maple syrup, and homeopathic health items, along with a vast selection of garden plants and flowers.

2 Watch a Movie on one of New York’s Largest Screens

Drive-in movie theaters are scarce, but luckily, Elmira is home to a great one! Elmira Drive-In has two large screens, including one that’s 50’ x 100’, and is nestled among the foothills along Route 352. You might even be able to take in a free firefly show during early summer!

3 Play a Round of Golf

Golf is a relaxing option to connect and stay in fit. Chemung County courses have taken pains to provide a safe way to get back on the green. For details on local courses, click here.

4 Pay Tribute to Twain on a Walking Tour at Woodlawn Cemetery

Established in 1858, Woodlawn Cemetery covers 184 acres, and its winding roads make it a popular spot for a stroll. One of the first rural garden-style cemeteries in the U.S., Woodlawn is, perhaps, best known as the final resting place of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), whose grave-site remains among the most visited in the country. Thanks to the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies and Small Town 360, you can follow an interactive historic map of Woodlawn Cemetery that provides details on the Clemens/Langdon family site, as well as several other notable cemetery residents.

5 Take a Hike

Visitation numbers at area parks and hiking trails indicate that quarantine has rekindled a love affair with the outdoors. Whether taking a stroll or an ambitious hike, walking can lift spirits and boost cardio health. A resource for area hiking options can be found here. History and rail lovers should also check out the 8.7 mile paved Lackawanna Trail that runs from Eldridge Park to Lowman Crossover, frequently using old railroad overpasses to cross streets.

6 Discover your favorite Ice Cream StandDiscover your favorite Ice Cream Stand

I scream, you scream…We love our ice cream in Twain Country and have a plethora of ice cream stands to prove it! While some claim a loyalty to a favorite spot, many of us find choosing a top choice to be too daunting. Click here to find an ice cream stand near you.

2020 Census: Chemung County Counts!

While various factors come into play with regard to Census under-counting, a leading one is census myths.  Many people don’t believe that their response will matter, that the census is a scam, or that their information will be abused.

The reality is, your response matters. 

The 2020 Census impacts funding decisions for things like infrastructure, health care, education, and more.  During this critical time as we are all experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that specific healthcare allocations are made, in order to ensure that Chemung County is provided with the accurate services and necessary supplies.

What do you do?  Count everyone in your home on the 2020 Census. That includes babies, young children, foster children, and nonrelatives who live with you. The census will shape the future for communities across the nation for the next ten years.

How can you respond?  You can respond to the Census online, by phone, or by mail today. Regardless of how you choose to respond, your information will be kept confidential and can only be used to produce statistics.

#ChemungCountyCounts

To respond online:  https://2020census.gov/en/ways-to-respond.html

To respond by phone:  844-330-2020

Thanks to Tanya McGee at the Chemung County Planning Department for the guest post.

The Scoop: 5 Strategies of Cities RISE

Attorney General Letitia James was in Elmira last month to announce that the City had won a one million dollar grant to address our housing challenges.

Since the press conference, several folks have asked us for additional information on Cities RISE, so here it is!

What is Cities RISE?

The program acronym stands for “Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement.” The goal of the program is to challenge municipalities to develop appropriate and innovative code enforcement strategies and work toward higher quality housing, responsible property owners and cohesive neighborhoods. In May, four members of the Elmira Cities RISE team—Mayor Dan Mandell, Community Development Director Emma Miran, Code Enforcement Director John McCracken, and Chemung County Planning Commissioner Nicolette Wagoner—attended a retreat at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation to brainstorm ideas for this grant, also known as Phase 3. During that retreat, they created a 5-part strategy that the city is now working to implement.

Proof that we were at a retreat with lots of whiteboards

What’s the problem this grant will help us solve?

As most readers are likely aware, Elmira has faced decades of disinvestment due to manufacturing decline and signification population loss and suburban flight, resulting in a high rate of concentrated poverty. The declining tax base has affected the city’s financial stability and operational capacity, ultimately creating a cycle of disinvestment within the community. Supporting and ensuring the effective operation and capacity of Code Enforcement is one way to support the revitalization of neighborhoods and housing stock.

Macro-economic factors and overall lack of private investment in Elmira—and its housing stock in particular—has resulted in poor quality housing throughout the City. These issues have manifested themselves in a weak housing market symbolized by rundown and underutilized properties, even in historically flourishing neighborhoods.

Cities RISE included an extensive public outreach process

So … what exactly is the City implementing now?

Over the course of the past several years working on Cities RISE, the Elmira team has integrated data on police and fire issues, utilities, code violations and general property conditions into software that now effectively provides insights for planning and neighborhood development projects. The system shows neighborhoods with concentrated areas of code violations and low property values (generally reflecting neighborhood development needs) in the City. Using this data, the Elmira team identified five specific action items with which to best utilize the $1 million grant. These are:

  • Inspect of one- and two-family rentals. While this might not seem like a big deal, it is. This grant will provide the city with capacity to hire additional code enforcement officers to inspect one- and two-family homes, which are often unknown locations for code violations or units that owners have illegally converted.
  • Restrict buyers at the County Foreclosure auction to those who have not lost a property for non-payment of taxes within a set period.
  • Encourage strong neighborhood ties through clean-up days with partner groups and the establishment of grassroots community groups.
  • Establish a code violation bureau to administer code cases, helping to reduce the time spent waiting to adjudicate cases against property owners whose units are in disrepair.
  • Create incentives for homeowners to improve housing (through mechanisms currently in development).

While this may not sound like a million dollars’ worth of work, it will take money, time, energy and collaboration to see this effort to completion. In the long term, the City is optimistic that these efforts could help stem the rates of population decline and flight from Elmira to outlying areas, and ultimately create population growth among key demographic groups including families and young professionals.

The Perfect Time of Year for a Cemetery Walk

All true stories begin and end in a cemetery.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira

When you think about cemeteries, what comes to mind? The final resting place for loved ones, memorials, sadness, or even ghosts? Ever since I was young, when we would bury a loved one or place a memorial crock on a headstone, I would remark on the beauty and wonder I felt. I would become really curious about the lives of people long since passed. I would wonder how they lived their life, what they cared most about, if they still have family and friends that pay their respects. Somewhat morbidly, I would wonder how they died. Thankfully for me, some of the older headstones provided that information.

When I left for college, I actually sought out a cemetery when I needed a break from studying. If I’m not sounding strange enough, I recently visited a cemetery during a vacation to New Zealand! If you share the sentiment that cemeteries are worth visiting for a stroll–or anything in addition to a burial–you will be happy to know that we have some wonderful options right here in Elmiraland.  You can even make a plan before you head out by searching this website to find a cemetery or to search for famous graves.

New Zealand cemetery … I wasn’t kidding.

A few of my local favorites, below.

Woodlawn Cemetery is by far one of my favorites. The Friends of Woodlawn work hard to preserve the integrity of the cemetery, and it shows. Most recently they worked to install the Heller Cremation Garden which surrounds a new columbarium or alternative to in-ground burial. During Halloween the Friends offer a (typically sold out) Ghost Walk that I would encourage you to check out along with ongoing audio tours and other special events. Within Woodlawn is Woodlawn National Cemetery, which started as the final resting place for prisoners of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp and is not to be missed. Exercise and history all in one!

Woodlawn Cemetery (Photo courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation)

Woodlawn was among the first cemeteries designed to have a park-like feel. Prior to 1831, Americans did not bury their dead in large cemeteries.  Around that time, however, we began creating large cemeteries that felt more like public parks and places to spend time outdoors. Because the US did not have many public parks at that time, families would flock to cemeteries for picnics or to carriage race among the beautiful gardens and sculptures. Woodlawn (est. 1858) certainly has this feel to it. Stroll along its winding roads and you’ll be sure to get some steps in. You’ll also notice some famous names who’ve made Woodlawn their final resting place including Mark Twain, John W. Jones, Ernie Davis, and a host of Elmira’s founding families (Diven, Eldridge, Pagett, Hendy). 

Saints Peter and Paul’s Cemetery on Elmira’s Southside is where my passion for cemeteries first grew. In the 1980’s, my parent’s owned the Convenient Food Mart on the corner of Broadway and Franklin Streets. While they were working, I’d hop on my bike and ride throughout the cemetery, sometimes for hours. (I was a slightly odd child but I’m OK with that).  I would ride and wonder, sometimes do some gravestone rubbing and always check to see if the mausoleum was open.

Saint’s Peter and Paul’s … ’nuff said.

A few years ago, I discovered the Webb Mills Cemetery while reviewing grant applications for work. This cemetery is in the hamlet of Webb Mills at the junction of Pennsylvania Avenue and County Highway 69. Community members have adopted the cemetery and volunteer their time to mow, fix fallen headstones, solve water run-off issues and so much more. It’s a really lovely place situated on a hill.

Webb Mills Cemetery, Town of Southport

There are so many other smaller cemeteries scattered throughout the City that often get overlooked like the ones on Fulton Street, Second Street, and upper Maple Avenue.  Most are lovingly cared for or at least mowed by a few dedicated people.

I encourage you to consider visiting one of these cemeteries or take a trip to be with your loved ones. Make sure you have plenty of time to pay your respects, reflect on life and enjoy the memories. Then, take a moment to gaze around at all of the headstones. Each one represents a life. We all try to avoid cemeteries but death is inevitable. You can give yourself some serious time to focus in on your future direction surrounded by a rather silent audience. All of our lives have meaning and purpose and the truth of the matter is that someday it will end. Cemeteries will surely remind you of that.

Sara Palmer

The Drive-In

If you haven’t been to the Elmira Drive-in on Route 352 in Big Flats, then you, my friend, are missing out.

I went for the first time last year. Perhaps the reasons it took so long for me to take the leap is because a) I didn’t know where it was and b) I didn’t know how it worked. So for those of you in the same boat, here’s what you need to know.

Look up the movies and times online and go maybe 20-30 minutes ahead of time. Throw some blankets and pillows in the back of the car, maybe some extra water. You pay at the front gate (below). You’ll find a good spot right near the screen. The snack bar has good snacks that do not cost a million dollars. The bathrooms are fine. Everything is good here. You find your spot, you get your snacks, you tune your car radio to the right station, you wait for the sun to go down, you watch a movie – or two, if your crowd is cool that way. Easy.

The retro entrance contributes to the experience.
Plenty of room to run before the movie starts.
THANK YOU … FOR USING THE TRASH CONTAINERS
What is this font? It is amazing.

The drive in is open seasonally, so I highly recommend that you go soon or put in on your list for next summer. We are so lucky to have this in our backyards.

Elmiraland Construction Update: DRI Edition

In 2017, Elmira was a Round 1 winner of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), a New York State-sponsored competition for a $10 million grant. The City received this funding to launch, leverage funding toward and complete major downtown development projects. Because a couple of years have passed since the award and people are curious about what’s happening now and next, we are providing an update on where the projects—as originally proposed by local officials and finalized by New York State—currently stand.

Click this link for the official list of projects and then read on to learn more about their status.

100 West Water Street

The City of Elmira received $4 million for this anchor project, a mixed-use development that is also the first new construction downtown in quite a while. 100 West Water is a four-story building with 51 gorgeous market-rate apartments. The developer had fully leased the apartments within two weeks of their opening in April. The building also includes approximately 17,000 sf of ground-floor retail and commercial space as well as a landscaped area facing Clemens Square to the north. The businesses here include LaBella Associates, a Rochester-based engineering and design firm, and Wells Fargo bank. We will share any public information on the tenant for the last available space as soon as we hear it.

The very pleasant open space for 100 West Water residents.

Lake Street Pedestrian Bridge

The Lake Street Pedestrian Bridge is a former vehicular bridge that closed due to structural concerns several years ago. LaBella and TWLA, the Ithaca-based landscape design firm, are polishing up designs for conversion of the bridge for bicycle and pedestrian use, with construction set to occur in 2020. The estimated date for the bridge to open is August 2020. The bridge rehab will provide another linkage in the bike and pedestrian network that we are continuing to build in Elmira, and will encourage more residents to walk downtown and enjoy Chemung River views. For more information, see our previous post about bridges.

Centertown Parking Garage / Clemens Square / Riverfront Park Boardwalk

We are discussing these three projects together as they are all part of one contract led by Hunt Engineers, Architects and Land Surveyors (HUNT) with design assistance from Whitham Planning and Design. The consultant team is in the design phase on all three projects, which will likely go out to bid in November and begin construction in spring 2020. As noted above, these include a $1,000,000 rehabilitation of the 40 year-old Centertown Parking Garage. The 735-car garage will undergo corrective maintenance items such as lighting and safety, and some aesthetic enhancements (TBD), providing a more pleasant parking experience for visitors to nearby businesses and activities. Clemens Square, located between the parking garage and 100 West Water, will also receive a $1.25 million facelift as part of this project. Plans to make this public space more inviting will enhance walkability, as it connects many of our downtown assets. It will also provide a new adaptable space for programs, events and outdoor eating and drinking. Finally, the project includes improvements to nearby Riverfront Park, including seating, planters, and other amenities. The goal for this area is to draw in visitors to this currently underutilized public space and provide an opportunity for better views of the Chemung River. Designs for all three elements of this project are forthcoming and we will share them here when available.

In 2020, you will come here, and you will like it.

Activate Buildings Fund

The DRI included $1,750,000 to activate vacant and underutilized mixed-use buildings downtown. Building owners submitted applications for grants up to 25% of their project cost, and the City selected projects based upon many factors including overall impact on downtown. This initiative is ongoing through 2021. Several projects, including façade improvements at Langdon Plaza and the historic Werdenberg Building at 200 West Water Street, are complete. Others such as interior and exterior improvements to Roundin’ Third and Gerould’s Pharmacy on South Main are moving forward, and we hope to see enough momentum in the program by the end of this year to inspire another post – stay tuned.

(Note: The City folded the small business revolving loan fund into the Activate Buildings fund, in part due to need and the administrative costs of managing these funds.)

The restored facade of the Werdenberg Building at West Water and Main Streets.

West Water Street Parking Reconfiguration

The parking on West Water Street is part of the Riverfront Park discussion (see above). While not part of the DRI, the City has in the past year retrofitted downtown parking meters to reflect the current century. Our meters now accept credit cards and coins. Huzzah!

If you have to pay for parking, at least it’s easy now.

Modernize Downtown Zoning

The zoning update is in full swing. E3/Elan Planning and Design and STREAM Collaborative are leading the effort to update the city’s zoning ordinance within the DRI boundary to reflect the comprehensive plan. For more information about the zoning project, visit the City’s website. This zoning update will utilize a Form Based Code to foster new opportunities for infill development that will prioritize the form and appearance of what future developments should be.  The goals of the updated zoning approach aim to decrease rates of vacancy, increase the renovation of existing buildings, create economic incentives for businesses, improve walkability and create a sense of place.  

Please note that the zoning committee is aiming for another public workshop in September and we really hope you come. Although the zoning update may not be the most exciting subject, it probably affects you.

The timeline for this project is to have the update largely drafted by the end of 2019 with adoption slated for early 2020.

A Final Note…

If you live in or around Elmira, you are probably aware of the many road and bridge construction projects currently underway. That is a wonderful thing. It is also one reason why the City shifted some of the DRI projects from the 2019 construction season to 2020. Busy seasons are great for the engineering firms, construction companies and local officials overseeing the work, but we have a limited supply of all of these things.

Please feel free to leave questions or comments below and we will respond to them as soon as possible!