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.
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.
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.)
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!
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!
Memories of Elmira summers…
As someone who moved to Elmira from the desert landscapes of New Mexico, I have never ceased to be amazed by the greenery and lush colors present everywhere. This quiet liveliness describes my entire experience living here. There are so many small things that are abundant in Elmira, which can often be taken for granted.
Growing up, I spent every day playing outside in the summertime, whether in my own sprawling backyard or running through the fields and trails along the slumbering Chemung River. When I was younger, the whole world seemed like a giant playground where my imagination could run wild–the “bamboo” (actually Japanese knotweed, but it’s more fun to call it bamboo) growing everywhere became spears or swords, tall trees became enemies or forts or obstacle courses, puddles became great floods. In fact, every time it rained my brother and I would run outside to play in the temporary streams. Moving from the southwest, I never lost my appreciation and awe of rain. We would play outside until we were soaked, then we would run inside shaking like wet dogs.
These experiences would not have been possible if we had moved somewhere else. This freedom and access to the outdoors allowed me to have an amazing childhood. In the winter, my family would cross country ski on snowy days, or take our sleds down the dike for hours on end. There are few places with as easy access to nature as Elmira, and it made all the difference in my childhood to be able to do such things.
I grew up in a welcoming neighborhood, with other kids to play with and adults that always came together to help us when little disasters came through town. The sense of community contributed to my ease as a child, and made me always feel comfortable roaming the nearby neighborhood while I played. Elmira is a very unique town, and I am so thankful to have gotten to grow up here, taking full advantage of all that the area has offered to me.
Guest writer Tallulah Keeley-LeClaire graduated from Elmira High School in 2018 and will be a sophomore at Yale University in the fall. She is spending the summer studying in South Korea (read more about it on her blog).
Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, that is. A collaboration between eight Chemung County agencies is mid-way through a year full of free and seriously awesome programming for kids at three Elmira community centers.
Frontline, Transformations, and Southside community center kids get to do hands-on and creative activities:
- The first program was Sept. 20th at the Southside Community Center when the Science and Discovery Center, in Elmira, taught the children at the center how to build cardboard and wooden ribs, that when joined together, form a lightweight, but sturdy wing.
- The Chemung County Historical Society focuses on birds and local history, like the story of the last Labrador Duck killed in Elmira; and the heavy use of birds and feathers in ladies’ hats during the Victorian era. Kids get to create their own bird-friendly hats!
- Tanglewood introduce students to live native owl and hawk, and share how birds live, eat, nest, fly and migrate.
- Community Arts of Elmira and the students use birds as inspiration for art and poetry projects to be displayed at a public reception at the end of the program.
- Chemung River Friends teaches the students about the fish hawks that live and nest on the Chemung River, and leads students on a guided hike to a river osprey nest.
- At the Corning Museum of Glass, students go bird watching in the museum’s galleries, identifying birds in glass and exploring how birds inspired glassmakers throughout history.
The program is financed with a $4,682 grant from the Triangle Fund in Corning, and a $500 grant from the Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes.
Well, the kids are having a blast, learning a ton, getting their creative genius on, and exploring outside. Tanglewood educator Laine Sempler has been impressed with the children participating in the program: “The way I teach a lot of times – I ask questions, and they teach me, so I get to know what knowledge the kids already have and where we can keep investigating. At Transformations, the older kids were really engaging the younger kids and encouraging them to ask questions and fill in the gaps. The older kids were great models in science! All of the children really enjoyed meeting Sophie the Great-Horned Owl as well – their eyes were almost as big as hers!”
At the end of the year, the children will have a gallery opening to show community members what they have created and learned over the course of STEAM Ahead Chemung.
Did you know that Chemung County has a FREE water park?
It’s called the Chemung River. It winds through our backyards and offers thrills, adventures and discoveries — on and in the water and along its banks and trails.
You can paddle, fish, wade and cool off in the river current. You can hike, bike, cross-country ski, watch birds and click spectacular nature photographs on the trails, levees and grassy banks. The river’s 10 public boat launches make it easy to access and enjoy paddle trips for a few hours to a few days.
We sometimes forget or don’t appreciate nature’s flowing water park. Too bad, because it’s a convenient and accessible destination for fresh-air recreation, education and a reconnection with nature and the river valley’s serene beauty.
That valley is a magical place where water, air and soil come together in a trinity of habitats brimming with plants, animals, fish and awe-inspiring wonder. You never know what you will see or experience, but you will always come away with good memories and river tales.
Our water park is a convenient place for outdoor exercise and for hands-on-and- feet-wet education about our environment, our place in it and our responsibility to protect and respect it.
The water park is open year-round, but the busy season begins this month when thousands of local folks, families, tourists and sportsmen and sportswomen take to the water and trails to enjoy some of Chemung County’s greatest natural resources – water, trails and outdoor recreation.
Our region is water wealthy. We are rich in rivers – Chemung, Tioga, Conhocton, Cowanesque, Canisteo and Susquehanna — and blessed with the Finger Lakes. Unfortunately too few people enjoy these blessings.
I invite you to do so. Hike the Chemung River trails in West Elmira or the grassy winding levee on the city’s Southside. Paddle a canoe, kayak or paddle board on the water. Ride a bike or walk your dog on the hard-paced dirt trails or the flat and grassy river plains.
Drop a hook, line and worm in the water and maybe catch a walleye, bass, pike or pan fish. While you wait, look for soaring bald eagles doing their own fishing, turtles sunning on a log or great blue herons standing stilt-still in the riffles.
Need a rest? Sit in the grass with your feet in the water and simply watch and listen to the river flow. Feel the breeze caressing your cheeks, the sun warming your shoulders and the cool water massaging your toes. There is no prescription medication that’s relieves stress and wash away the day’s annoyances, than river sitting. And there is no co-payment.
All it takes is your decision to give it a try. Visit our river, enjoy it and discover what it can do for you, your family and our community.
It’s free, accessible, open 24/7, no waiting in long lines, you never know what you are going to experience and you will learn much about the outdoors and yourself.
This has been a guest post by:
Executive Director, Chemung River Friends
After driving by the parking area on Water Street exit roughly two thousand times and each time thinking, “I really ought to go investigate that soon,” I finally made it down the extension of the Lackawanna Rail Trail. The trail has been an easy bike ride through the city for a few years now, and the extension from the Water St. parking lot to the Lowman crossover opened in November 2017. The trail is a very gentle 8.7 miles from one end to the other – ideal for bikers, joggers, and wheelchair friendly (built to ADA standards). The trail is not plowed in winter, which means if good powder falls and you’re quick on the draw, it’s probably a very nice cross-country ski. Because it’s flat and straight, so it’s easy to get into a groove and hold a steady pace.
If you’re less speedy and more curious, then it’s an unexpectedly great walk. You might think that an urban trail that follows the highway would be boring and bereft of nature, but hey, it’s the opposite! Armed with my binoculars and leashed dog, I moseyed along looking into the woods. Because the trail is balanced between the highway and the edge of the river, where there traditionally has not been much in the way of foot traffic, the wildlife still seems unused to humans (and dogs) coming right up to into their habitat. I saw dozens of species of birds, including a juvenile bald eagle and a red-tailed hawk with a talonful of squirrel, and even more bird nests – at least ten Baltimore Oriole nests, hanging like little baskets of dryer lint from the spindliest of twigs. The bright black-and-orange songbirds will be livening up the trail soon as they migrate back in spring. This forest-river ecotone is rich with wildlife! My dog found fox scat, and didn’t to eat it or roll in it, so it was a glorious day for both of us.
And what I absolutely loved the most after the eagle sighting was the ability to linger and take in the bend in the river. I adore that view upsteam – roughly just before the exit sign to Elmira heading west on I-86 – but since I usually just the briefest of sidelong glimpses while zipping home on the highway, I’ve never gotten to really relish the view. I can tell you now with confidence that it’s a beautiful sunset on that bend in the Chemung. Well worth the hour-ish walk on the Lackawanna trail.
Three surprises from my stroll:
- Impressive number of birds, from songbirds to waterfowl to raptors.
- Highway noise not bad at all! For a walk immediately parallel to the highway, the traffic noise wasn’t very loud. I’d suspected it would be more unpleasant but I was able to tune it out easy, and you’d be able to carry a conversation with no trouble.
- There are lovely benches along the trail for resting. But – this is totally mystifying to me – they face the highway. If I were inclined to sit and rest along this trail, my personal preference would be to look out over the Chemung River, watch some osprey fishing, see some folks enjoying a canoe paddle, take in the autumn foliage on a warm day. But the benches have you sitting and observing the traffic. Though once I asked my dog to sit in front of the scenic river, and walked over the other side of the trail to take her photo at the bend, it occurred to me…. they might be… selfie benches!