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Downtown Development Projects Downtown Development Projects webpage of Ithaca Night Life ( NightLife ), NY focus is to
promote the downtown historic district of Ithaca, New York.
The Ithaca Commons
The Ithaca Commons is a two-block pedestrian mall in downtown Ithaca, New York, built in 1974 Its boundaries are Green
Street to the south, Cayuga Street to the west, Seneca Street to the north, and Aurora Street to the east. It sits at the
intersection of Tioga and State Streets. Shops, galleries, restaurants, and bars line either side of the Commons, while the
walkway is dotted with trees, benches and sculptures. It serves as the center of the central business district for the Tompkins
The Commons is the center of Ithaca and Tompkins County civic life, serving as the main community meeting space.
The City and Town Hall abut the Commons, and the local state representatives have their offices on or adjacent to it. Many
of the stores have apartments on their second and third floors. During the summer months, local entertainers and theater groups
put on free performances at the 3 covered pavilions on the Commons. The stages are also utilized for many politically inspired
protests and speeches.
The Commons hosts several festivals throughout the year. The main festival, the Ithaca Festival in the summer, is
centered on the Commons for 2 of its three days. Traditionally, the final day of the festival is at Stewart Park on the Cayuga
Lake waterfront. Two relatively new festivals which have found a home on the Commons are the Apple Harvest Festival in the
Fall and Chili Cook-Off in the Winter.
The Sagan Planet Walk, named after famed Cornell University
astronomer Carl Sagan
, begins in the Commons and stretches 3/4 mile from the Commons through downtown Ithaca to the Sciencenter. The Planet Walk
traces a to-scale path of the solar system, including colorful pictures and facts about the planets.
The Commons (Green
Street) is also the main hub for the Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) bus network. With a few exceptions, most routes
originate/ terminate at or stop at Green Street, which is also a frequent connection point between the various routes.
a live view of the "Bernie Milton Pavilion" in the center of the Commons on the Commons Cam website
The Commons was created in 1974, in part to counteract a proposed mall to have been located where the Wegmans and Wal-Mart plazas are located approximately 2 miles southwest of the Commons . This was a time that many small towns in the United States were experimenting with creating pedestrian malls. The
Ithaca Commons is one of the few such experiments that remains. It faced immediate competition, with the Ithaca area's first
mall opening the same decade in the neighboring village of Lansing.
Together with the rest of Upstate New York, the Commons suffered in the late 1990s with many empty storefronts, and former Ithaca Mayor Alan Cohen (owner of a restaurant
located on the Commons) proposed removing the Commons and opening up the two-block portion of State Street to automobile traffic
In recent years, however, the Commons has been relatively prosperous, perhaps due to the growing county economy, one of the few growing economies in Upstate New York. Thanks in part to a controversial density incentive program,
much of the new development in Ithaca has centered on a small radius around the Commons. One of the most recent projects completed
was Seneca Place, a multistory mixed use building, incorporating retail, office space, and a Hilton Garden Inn hotel. The
Cayuga Green project has brought the Commons area a new multi-level parking garage, and phase two of the project will bring
a luxury apartment complex and a multiplex movie theater. Another luxury apartment building, Gateway Apartments, was recently
The Commons has managed to survive despite the lack of a traditional retail anchor. After Rothschilds (a local department
store) closed in the early 1980's, the closing of the McCurdy's store in the same location in the mid 1990's, the closing of a Woolworths store one block away in the late 1990s, and again after a CVS store closed a decade later, the Commons' demise was predicted. While the demise has not happened, it remains an eclectic
mix of small businesses, mostly specialty stores, bars, used book stores and restaurants, while everyday retail stores have
located to a commercial strip on the southwest edge of the city. The Commons and the immediate area once hosted department
stores, but all closed by the late 1990s. While the Commons has, off and on, been the location for chain stores, it remains
mostly independent. The former McDonalds in the center of the Commons closed in the early 1990s and remained vacant for almost a decade (it now hosts a sports bar).
However, in 2006, the Ithaca area's first Starbucks opened adjacent to the Commons, and a Subway opened as well. The Commons also hosts a 10,000 Villages, a chain store selling
only fair-trade gifts.