January 10, 2014
Businesses: Cortaca has benefits
Panel examining ways to curb rowdy behavior hosts second public meeting
Business owners stressed the positive aspects of the Cortaca weekend during a public meeting Thursday night with the Cortaca Commission, highlighting the importance of outside revenue on what is many bars and restaurants’ biggest weekend of the year.
The commission, a joint panel of college and city representatives, held its second public meeting at the County Office Building’s auditorium, with a turnout of about 25 people. After partying related to the weekend’s events got out of control this year, the commission was created to ensure things are kept under control.
Businesses were quick to state they had no support for out of line behavior but the influx of out of the area cash was hard to ignore. Tom Terwilliger, owner of the Red Jug Pub and Mando Books, is a SUNY Cortland alumnus and spoke first, representing the Cortland County Restaurant and Tavern Association.
“In no way do our businesses support the disruptive behavior that occurred on that weekend,” Terwilliger said. “Cortaca weekend ran smoothly in the bars, as it has for quite some time.”
One reason that things remained under control was the importance of the event to local restaurants and bars, who can see big business from the morning throughout the day.
“We worked exhaustively to prepare for the event that is the single biggest contributor to our bottom line,” Terwilliger said.
Charbel Karam, the owner of Pita Gourmet, supports Cortaca even though he does not open his restaurant the day of the game. The allure of outside revenue to downtown outweighs the negatives for businesses like Karam’s.
“I know that events like this, so many towns like ours dream to have an event like this,” Karam said. “When other businesses have revenue, my business does revenue the next day or the next week.”
Even more importantly, Karam believes the city needs to embrace the event and work toward making it safer and more profitable for everyone involved. Clearing the air of negativity around the event is the first step, Karam said.
“Everything is not only negative, negative, negative,” Karam said. “We need to think positive.”
That sentiment was repeated by Steve Wineberg, the owner of Benard’s Custom T-Shirts. He feels that forcing the event out is the wrong move, considering the amount of money it brings into the area.
“To try and shut down an event that brings in over a million dollars is insane,” Wineburg said. “This town has a tendency of pushing good things out.”
While he may not see the big profits Cortaca weekend that some bars do, Wineburg said the symbiotic relationship between downtown businesses means success for one can mean success for more businesses.
“We do business directly and indirectly,” Wineberg said. “Just because someone might not do their business that day doesn’t mean that that bar owner isn’t coming into their business the following day to spend money.”
The money Cortaca brings in could be considerable, based on estimates from Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Jim Dempsey. Based on 3,000 guests staying in hotels and motels and 1,500 staying in the dorms or student housing and spending money on food and incidentals, Dempsey estimated as much as $1.6 million may be generated by the event, according to Cortland County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Haight.
“When we pull in outside dollars into our community, we all benefit,” Haight said. “We want the Cortaca folks to be here. We want them coming in here, we want their enthusiasm. We want the dollars that they’re going to spend.”
Due to its impact, some businesses like Karam’s think that the community emphasis should be directed toward promoting the event in conjunction with making it safer. Karam said that many businesses spend a lot of money and time preparing for Jets training camp but don’t see the same results.
“We put so much effort into this event and compared to Cortaca, to me it’s almost nothing,” Karam said. “We have to think about which one is best for our city. It’s nothing compared to what Cortaca is in one weekend.”
Commission member Fred Pierce, SUNY Cortland’s public relations director, said the group is looking at all options and is researching ways the control the event, not just cancel or postpone it.
“We’re not looking to find a villain in this to point fingers at,” Pierce said. “One of the things that’s become clear is that ... there’s Cortaca the game and Cortaca the party that happens.”
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