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 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.
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!
Some call it Spring …. I call it ice cream season.
It’s here! The time of year when my favorite mom-and-pop-style ice cream stands eagerly turn their signs from closed to open for business! I can’t wait to get that first taste of my favorite, chocolate and vanilla twist with chocolate sprinkles. Sure, temperatures still dip into the teens in the evening, and you may freeze standing in line for your favorite treat. But the payoff is so sweet as you take that first lick or scoop. It is spring in a cone, here to help us through the last doldrums of winter.
Because it is still chilly outside, I offer the following winter ice cream rules:
- Do not order a banana split – they take way too long!
- Know what you want to order before you get to the window.
- Tip your server! He or she is likely a high school or college student. Ice cream = kindness.
- Bring cash. Most of these stands are small businesses who may have to pay extra for credit or debit card transactions.
Whether you’re a cone, sundae or shake kind of person, where do you go for the best ice cream? Here’s a list of my favorite stops in Elmiraland:
KING KONE / 1315 College Avenue
Krunch Kote anyone? King Kone used to be one of the only stands that you could get this marvelously crunchy topping, which has since caught on at other places. This remains, however, the only one with bright yellow paint and a giant gorilla-holding-ice-cream on the roof. This stand is one that you might visit while on a first date after having seen a movie. It’s vintage! (And one of the first to open every year.)
BIG TOP/ Miracle Mile
Big Top is fantastic, so don’t let its location on the busy Miracle Mile scare you away! This little stand has been around for what seems like forever. While I used to be put off by all of the signs in the windows saying things like, “cash only” or “know what you want to order before coming to the window,” I now appreciate that they keep the lines moving. The Erie Railroad tracks run behind Big Top and occasionally the train will stop so conductors can grab lunch or a cone. That’s always fun to see.
FAIR SHAKE / Pine City
Fair Shake is really more of an experience, especially if you have young kids. They offer over 50 flavors of ice cream plus several dairy- or sugar-free options, a bunch of old arcade games inside, a fish pond in the back and a homemade barrel train that gives rides to little ones for FREE!
GRAND CENTRAL CREAMERY / Elmira Heights
Serving ice cream since 1959, Grand Central Creamery is the only local stand providing both walk-up AND drive-thru service. Here you’ll find 9 Perry’s soft-serve custard flavors along with over 40 varieties of hard ice cream. You can also spot the dole-whip flavor-of-the-week on their sign – I know a few friends who get really excited for pumpkin every year.
SERENDIPITY / Route 352, Big Flats
Serendipity is the new kid on the block. Stop here to break up your commute from Elmira to Corning or grab a sweet treat to enjoy at one of the tables outside. Serving Hershey’s ice cream, you’ll find all of the standards – chocolate, vanilla, strawberry – hard and soft, plus a bunch of other flavors. They have coffee, too, which I hear is great! This is a really nice place and a modern variation to the traditional stands we typically see in Elmira.
This wraps up my list of favorites … now get out there and enjoy some spring in a cone as we usher in the warmer weather!
I really don’t have the words to describe how fortunate we are to have Joycrest Skating Rink here in Elmiraland.
Upstate NY, “the hotbed for hot wings” as I’ve often called it; where every city has their own local spots that the citizens will say have the best wings out of anywhere. Elmira is no different.
I’ll start off by saying you can’t go wrong with any of these five options when you’re on the hunt to get your wing fix, but if you have lived in Elmira for any extended period of time, I’m willing to bet you know which two will be at the top. It’s an argument as old as time: Elbow Room vs. Bernie Murray’s. Everyone has their personal favorite, the place they need to go if they’ve left town for a while and need to get their favorite Elmira meal to make them feel right at home. I go back and forth between the two and have spent many sleepless nights deciding which one I will publicly claim as number one.
Well, I’ll stop wasting your time with the ranting and start wasting your time with my rankings. Here it goes:
1. Elbow Room
Like I said, this was an extremely difficult decision, but Elbow Room edged out Bernie Murray’s and the others for the top spot. The wings are amazing and what really pushed it over the top for me was the bleu cheese. While it isn’t part of the actual wing, it is part of the overall wing experience and given how close the two were, that is what broke the tie for me. The wings are crispy, delicious, and just all around fantastic, can’t beat ‘em! Preference: Hot with an extra bleu cheese (stingers if I’m feeling crazy)
2. Bernie Murray’s
Another establishment that is vital to the wing culture in Elmira, amazing wings that come out hot and crispy every time. What makes them a little bit different than Elbow Room is the sauce; the taste is pretty similar to Elbow Room but the consistency is a bit thicker which makes them stick to the wings better. Not sure if it’s less butter or how they go about it, but it’s fantastic. Look for them to contend again in 2019. Preference: Medium
This may be considered a sleeper pick – you don’t always hear them in the conversation for the best wings, but I personally love them (the pizza is amazing, too). The char grilled wings are delectable, and are great for when you’re looking for a change up from a normal wing. If you haven’t tried them yet make sure to move them to the top of your list. Preference: Garlic Parmesan
The wings at Pudgie’s remind me a lot of Elmira. To the outside eye maybe not the prettiest, maybe a little messy, but once you get familiar with them they will hold a special place in your heart forever. For Elmira natives, you’ve probably eaten these wings at pretty much every birthday party you’ve been to since the beginning of time. A party pack also makes for a great recovery Sunday meal if you spent your Saturday night at one of the local watering holes, as Elmirans have been known to do. Preference: Medium
5. Green Derby
I’m breaking the traditional mold here, and I may catch some heat for it, but that’s the risk you take when you get into hard hitting journalism pieces like this. Number Five for me is the popcorn chicken at Green Derby. Some might say that they aren’t wings, and this very well could be true, but I couldn’t write this article without including them, so feel free to berate me in the comments. Some prefer the larger boneless wings, but for me the popcorn chicken has been incredible every time, a true can’t-miss meal. Preference: Cattleman’s Gold
That’s my list; it ended up being a bit longer than I originally anticipated but it’s tough not to ramble when you’re discussing something you’re passionate about. I look forward to hearing about what I may have missed, or what your personal favorites are!
Opinions bravely contributed to Elmiraland by Mav Timson.
On a snowy, wintry night, sometimes you give into inertia and pile three to twelve blankets on yourself and extend a chilly digit or two out from underneath your heat nest only to affirm with a click “Yes, Netflix, I am still alive, if not necessarily well, and I do indeed want to watch another nine solid hours of this series.” (Just… just me?)
But sometimes I’m brave enough to stomp out into the snow. Recently, I walked over to the Finger Lakes House, a very short walk from the historic West Side and from downtown.
“Sometimes” is going to become “very often” if the restaurant keeps up with their fascinating revolving tap options, deep B-side cuts from the region’s breweries, and straight-up delicious food.
Anyway, my ear muffs and I are glad we went out.
There were too many obscure, interesting, mysterious options to limit myself to a pint. So my husband and I went for two flights – me and my dark porters/stouts/interesting reds, and he with his might-as-well-be-bludgeoned-by-a-pine-tree hoppy IPAs. There was a striking diversity of breweries represented on the menu, some I’d not heard of before, and a ton of beers that I know I’ve never seen at Wegmans. Finger Lakes Whiteout Wassail was my favorite of my flight – beautiful rich walnut color and a little burnt spice scent on top of a mellow brown ale.
Rotating taps and the enthusiastic curation of the region’s beer renaissance means I will be coming back often to see what’s new.
POTACHOSSSSSSSSSSS. (Kettle chip nachos + three cheeses!) Their take on beer cheese dip with carrots, apples, and soft pretzels was so rich that we cleaned the bowl in minutes.
On a less dairy-indulgent note, we also ordered the sweet potato flatbread with a drizzle of balsamic and it was an amazing savory addition. The food is sized to share several small plates – if they have that flatbread again, we’re each ordering our own next time, and we’ll share one of the cheesy options.
Will demand another investigative journalism trip to the Finger Lakes House. Will be walking over there again in the snow soon!
The house itself is a gorgeous remodeled 1870s row house, just cozy and charming from the pretty tin ceiling down to the long wood table with a custom inset of local river rocks. The level of care in the dining room echoes the owner’s devotion to the local beer and wine. A sweet respite from the snow and sure to be a sunny space as the days get longer in spring and summer.
It’s an easy five-minute walk from the First Arena to the restaurant. On-street parking is limited; there is a small parking area for customers immediately adjacent.