New York state’s Restore New York program granted $1.15 million last week to the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency in order to renovate the Petrune and dollar store buildings located on The Commons. The project will bring 22 jobs and 13 apartments to The Commons by spring 2010.
The building owners will cover the remaining cost of the project, about $1.18 million, with the assistance of local banks.
Justin Hjortshoj and Domenica Brockman own and operate the Petrune building and Café Brotchen next door. Brockman said the store plans to use its share of the grant to expand clothing operations and create three apartments on the third story.
Their clothing line features vintage patterns by Vogue, as well as several original designs. With the help of the grant, the store will be able to produce these styles for mass consumption. The new additions to Petrune will allow them to hire two manufacturers.
“There is no manufacturing in this area at all,” Brockman said. “There’s a lot of potential.”
Miranda McCue, Petrune manager, said the extra space will benefit the store.
“We wanted to start our own clothing line, and we didn’t really have a good space that we could set up a sewing and designing room,” she said.
Two shops down from Petrune, the empty dollar store building at 132 The Commons will also be renovated. Sunit Chutintaranond and Flaminia Cervesi recently purchased the building with plans to turn the ground floor into an Asian restaurant, creating 20 jobs.
The remaining three floors of the building will be turned into 10 apartments, two of which are earmarked by the state as low and moderate income housing options, Director of Urban Development Nels Bohn said. According to Bohn, the ultimate goal of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency is to enhance the tax base for the city by using the upper floors of buildings on The Commons and strengthening the retail market.
“[The project] is going to increase the housing supply in a way that doesn’t require any new conversion of green space to build space because the buildings are already sitting developed,” Bohn said. “[It will] generate a stronger demand for the downtown businesses and also provide some affordable housing in the process.”
Bohn said he believes the new restaurant and apartments will benefit the Ithaca economy despite many Ithaca shops closing in the past year.
“You can increase your retail sector by increasing the number of people that live in close vicinity of those stores,” he said.
Kat Hauger has lived in Ithaca for 11 years and said she’s noticed a decline in the number of people on The Commons. Still Hauger said she thinks the grant will increase the downtown business.
“Anytime you get a popular store, it’s going to increase the revenue of other stores,” she said.
Bohn said he hopes to continue to restore underutilized space on The Commons but cautions that the process is expensive and funding isn’t always available.
“The Common Council have long supported efforts to try to revitalize The Commons with a particular emphasis on the upper stories,” Bohn said. “These buildings are a historic asset to the community as well as a smart way to grow.”