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!
I just spent entirely too long trying to come up with an interesting title for this blog post. It didn’t happen. But hopefully the information below will be helpful for you, reader friends!
We have been fortunate to receive rehabilitation funding for all five of our river crossings. One of them – the Clemens Center Parkway Bridge – is complete, and the other four projects are coming up. Below is an overview, moving from west to east. (Please note that while the dates may change, this information is current as of February 2019.)
The City will rehabilitate the Walnut Street Bridge thanks to a BRIDGE NY grant, with an estimated start date of July 2019. In early July, closures will begin, but the project will maintain two-way vehicular and pedestrian traffic until 2020 (Date TBD), when the bridge closes entirely for construction.
The City will begin rehabilitation of the Main Street Bridge in 2021. The project will repair the bridge decay and enhance public safety while preserving the structure for another 20 to 30 years.
The Lake Street Bridge, closed to all traffic in 2011 due to structural deficiencies, will be open for pedestrian and bicycle use from March—June 2019, while the Madison Avenue Bridge (below) undergoes rehabilitation. After Madison re-opens, Lake Street will undergo its own rehabilitation as part of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI). The bridge will be a linear park connecting the City’s downtown and south side, while providing a new community gathering space and link to amenities such as Brand Park and the Lackawanna Rail Trail. State and federal programs, with cooperation from local utilities, are fully funding the project. Anticipated dates of construction are August 2019 through 2020, although some work will begin this spring. Note: the graphic above is a preliminary design concept from the public meeting and is subject to modifications during final design.
Finally, the Madison Avenue Bridge will undergo its rehab (also with BRIDGE NY funding) starting this week. On February 26, the city will close one lane of the bridge in order to add communication lines in advance of the rehabilitation. The project will maintain two-way traffic until mid-March when the bridge will close until late June. As stated above, the Lake Street Bridge will be the alternate route for pedestrians and bicyclists while Madison is fully closed to traffic.
Thank you to our pals at Chemung County Department of Public Works for this information!
A “complete street” refers to the inclusive method of improving roads and the infrastructure around them for all users. This means improving access for motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and those who utilize public transportation. Complete streets are equitable, allowing adults, children, the elderly and the disabled to use road and sidewalks more safely.
Governor Andrew Cuomo passed the Complete Streets Act on August 13, 2011. Since that time, more than 300 New York State municipalities have passed complete streets laws and policies at the county, city, town and village levels. Click here for a list of all municipalities in NYS that have adopted Complete Streets policies.
How is this relevant to Elmiraland, you might ask? The City Council adopted a Complete Streets policy in June 2018, effectively stating the local commitment to a more equitable use of roadways. Going forward, this policy may help the City secure additional funding for the design and construction of safer streets and a network of paths for bicycles and pedestrians. (View the Star Gazette article here).
What makes a street “complete”?
Various methods and investments in infrastructure make up a complete street. These may include:
- Visible and safe sidewalks and paths
- Distinguishable bicycle lanes
- Clear signage
- Well-maintained crosswalks
- Traffic calming methods such as medians or curb bump-outs
- On-street parking
- Bicycle infrastructure
- Bus lanes
These solutions can range in price (from low-cost to high) and implementation (some municipalities could paint bike lanes on their streets in a few days while other strategies such as dedicated cycle tracks or light rail could be years in the making.) The one thing all of these characteristics have in common is that they improve safety for all users.
Why do we need complete streets in Chemung County?
To increase safety.
Bicycling and walking through busy areas can be intimidating, especially since American planners and engineers a generation ago designed most cities and roads to cater to cars. As a result, many cities and neighborhoods are not particularly pedestrian- or bike-friendly. Within Elmira, the city is working on several projects downtown to slow traffic, install bike lanes and upgrade sidewalks; for example, the pending improvement of West Water Street is an example of a complete streets project.
To increase social engagement.
Many stakeholders are working locally to improve our older mixed-use neighborhoods while creating a more vibrant downtown with a variety of housing types and attractive amenities to attract and retain residents. Making the streets more comfortable for all users and providing them with opportunities to interact with one another will help make Elmira a more attractive place to live and visit!
To increase connectivity and equity.
Complete streets are responsible for more than improving travel infrastructure. Complete streets work to enhance connectivity, filling gaps within low-access communities (those that may currently lack sidewalks, bike lanes or transit options). Like all communities, the municipalities within Chemung County can benefit from social, economic and environmental goals that complete streets help to promote. The strategies mentioned above help to foster strong communities and economies.
Complete Streets provide a means for social interaction between residents and business owners who end up sharing public spaces more frequently. The City of Elmira and Chemung County are already promoting some complete streets strategies through implementation of the City of Elmira Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) strategies.
When people feel comfortable walking, biking, and parking in commercial areas, they are able to spend more time contributing into the local economy.
Users of local infrastructure will reduce greenhouse gas emissions (primarily through auto-related pollution) when public transportation, biking, or walking is safe and comfortable.