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Local businesses discuss delayed Commons construction

Downtown construction on the Ithaca Commons is now expected to finish in Spring 2015.
Ithaca Commons business owners gathered at Wednesday’s Common Council meeting to express frustration over the ongoing construction on the Commons, which has been delayed.

The Ithaca Commons Update Project has been in the works since spring of 2013 and was set to be completed by Thanksgiving of this year, but will now go into Spring of 2015.

“With small business, which is a lot of what we heard at Wednesday night’s Common Council meeting, their margins are so slim that any of that [construction] can hurt their business and their families. And it has been too long, which is why they decided to get together and make their voices heard,” Michael Kuo, project manager of the Commons Update said.

Now You’re Cooking Co-Owner Jerry Martins, organized the meeting. “I went with a list, like 45 businesses, the only ones I had the chance to go to, and no one refused to sign that list,” Martins said.

Many businesses are down an employee or two, Martins said. “People may have not have been fired but certainly not rehired if they left because there’s so much less business. That’s a lot of unemployment, if you add it all up. A lot of people are out of work.”

“We suffered a lot, but I believe they’re going to help and they will do their best to keep us in life,” Casablanca owner Adil Griguihi said. His pizzeria downtown was one of the businesses at Wednesday’s council meeting.

The Downtown Ithaca Alliance has also been working with business owners and the city council to try to come up with solutions to help struggling businesses survive until the construction’s completion.

“We’re trying to be a convener and facilitator,” DIA executive director  Gary Ferguson said. “We’re trying to work both parties and put together a checklist and work toward achieving some of those [solutions], whatever they are.”

The delay was in part due to the city’s decision to replace the natural gas lines. It was difficult to continue working alongside the replacement, and that’s the reason why progress over the summer was stalled, Kuo said.

Kuo announced the revised schedule for the project at Wednesday’s meeting. “After getting a reasonable projection after meeting with my contractors, we put together that we’d finish half of the Commons by this Thanksgiving, so Bank Alley and the southern end from Trolley Circle.”

Once the freezing temperatures roll in, the construction are expected to come to a halt. “If nighttime temperatures drop significantly below freezing, you won’t get a good cure in your concrete and your concrete can become weak and fail, and then all the work that we’ve done and put in would have to get ripped out and replaced,” Kuo said.

“We are in trouble,” said Martins. “And for this Christmas to be dark down here with this kind of thing, you know, some businesses aren’t gonna make it.”

Work to finish the northern end of the Commons will resume in the Spring of 2015 as soon as weather permits, following the city’s promise of a speedy completion.

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