Area groups partner to see what it would take to create an arts, culture and entertainment district in Cortland

Music, art and theater


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Kerby Thompson, Producing Artistic Director of Cortland Repertory Theater, has to duck his head as he walks through the prop area at the Franklin Street facility where the sets are also constructed. The theater is looking for a larger facility for set building, storage, as well as room for a winter theater program.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — An intimate, downtown cabaret-style theater. Small, second-story art galleries featuring local artists. Multiple and varied venues for live music and maybe even an art house movie theater.
Each would seem very much at home in Syracuse or Ithaca, or in any major metropolitan area — but in Cortland?
Believing that Cortland would benefit greatly from a greater cultural presence downtown, the county Business Development Corp., the Downtown Partnership and Cortland Repertory Theater are partnering to examine just what it would take to create an arts, culture and entertainment district in the city.
The BDC has applied for $98,250 in grant money from the state Quality Communities Program, which would fund a study of available space and resources and of the potential market for a downtown arts district, said Linda Hartsock, executive director of the BDC.
The centerpiece of the grant application, Hartsock said, is the desire of Cortland Repertory Theater to create a downtown presence for itself beyond its summer location at the Pavilion on Little York Lake.
According to Producing Artistic Director Kerby Thompson, CRT wants a building that could both house CRT’s set construction and costume design operations, and allow the theater company to produce small-scale shows year-round.
“That’s something we’re looking at long range, setting up some kind of winter facility downtown,” said Thompson, who added that CRT intended to stay at the Pavilion, its home for the last 36 years, for its summer performances.
“It would be a small performance, cabaret sort of venue — it’d be something very different from what we can offer right now, and I think it would bring more people, more college students downtown.”
Although planning is still in its earliest stages, Thompson said he could also foresee some sort of small art house cinema at the facility, and would look at other ways to bring arts downtown.
“I see no reason why Cortland can’t have these facilities — why should we need to go to Ithaca or Syracuse for something like this?” Thompson said.
Key for CRT is finding enough space to house both a performance space and a workshop for sets and costumes.
The theater company owns warehouse space on Franklin Street, but that building has become increasingly cramped, Thompson said, and it isn’t heated, making it difficult to work in winter months.
“We can hardly move around in there as it is, and right now there’s no way to assemble a complete set and get a look at it until we get it to the pavilion,” he said. “This is something we’ve been thinking about for a while, but we needed a little action to really get things rolling.”
Of the $98,000 in grant money, $60,000 would go toward a real estate analysis, a marketing study and engineering work to determine if CRT could either adapt available space to meet its needs, or construct a new building somewhere downtown, Hartsock said.
The remainder of the money would go toward developing marketing and implementation plans for an arts district, along with a series of downtown dialogues to discuss the development process that would be hosted by Downtown Manager Lloyd Purdy, Hartsock said.
“What companies and young professionals are looking for are areas with vibrant economies and active lifestyles, so it’s a very attractive strategy to get businesses here,” Hartsock said. “This is not only an opportunity to do something good for downtown, but it could also really establish our place as the eastern gate to the Finger Lakes — it could help with tourism, also.”
Purdy said he ultimately envisioned a comprehensive downtown arts district with visual arts, theater, cinema and music, and added that there was ample real estate available for such endeavors.
“I’ve personally taken a walk through of a half dozen first-, second- and third-story spaces and any one could be well suited to an art, entertainment or cultural venue,” Purdy said, pointing to the space available above Nordic Sports, the State Farm Office and Hairy Tony’s tavern, all on Main Street. “Once we find out what space we have, then we can do some research to find out what will work well in this community, and we can track down the organizations that can fit that niche.”
If and when the grant is received, and the study is done, Thompson said CRT would still need to secure a good deal of funding.
The theater would likely seek grant money wherever possible, Thompson said, but was reluctant to start a major fundraising drive too soon because it just completed a drive to make improvements at the pavilion.
Still, Thompson was hopeful the grant would springboard efforts to bring the theater downtown.
“If we do have to raise money, this should be an easy sell — it shouldn’t be hard to convince people that this is something that would have a positive impact,” Thompson said. “I wouldn’t be in the arts if I worried about money all the time — I’ve got to believe it can happen.”


Sales tax revenue may come up short

Staff Reporter

County sales tax revenues in 2006 are on an almost identical pace to revenues in 2005, causing county officials to worry about a repeat of last year, when a stagnant fourth quarter caused the county to fall about $200,000 short of its projections.
Through Nov. 13 of this year, the county had pulled in about $18.6 million in sales tax revenue, putting it at about 82 percent of its total projected revenue, according to figures from County Treasurer Don Ferris.
Through Nov. 14 of 2005, the county was also at 82 percent of projected revenue, Ferris said.
“My gut feeling is, we’re going to come up a hair short,” Ferris said.
In 2005, the county was at 50 percent of its budgeted revenue midway through the year, and at 75 percent at the end of the third quarter, but sales slowed slightly in the fourth quarter.
Although the county reached 99 percent of budgeted revenue by the end of 2005, that lost 1 percent represented a $200,000 shortfall for the county.
Making up $200,000 in sales tax revenue would have required approximately $5 million in additional sales, Ferris noted.
In 2006, the county was at 26 percent of projected revenues through the first quarter, at 51 percent through the second quarter, and 75 percent through the third.
County Administrator Scott Schrader said he was also concerned the county might fall short of its projections.
“It’s going to be real close — I’m concerned because last year the fourth quarter was dismal,” Schrader said. “What’s disconcerting is that we don’t necessarily know why that was.”
Ferris suggested that some of the shortfall at the end of 2005 may have been due to a transit strike in New York City in December that delayed the processing of some tax returns that ultimately wound up being included in the early 2006 numbers.
Still, he too wasn’t sure what to expect during the fourth quarter.
“You hear all the time about a ‘holiday bump,’ but the numbers generally trend the same way from year to year, and spending habits don’t change that rapidly,” Ferris said.
Should the county fall short of its projections, the money would need to come from other accounts that finish 2006 with a surplus, Schrader said.
Last year, the $200,000 shortfall was made up with interest earnings, according to Schrader, and this year approximately $400,000 from the sale of foreclosed properties this summer could help mitigate any shortfall, he said.




Marathon raises tax levy 3.9%

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — The town approved a $603,000 budget for 2007 last week in which residents will see a slight increase in their tax bills, with a 7-cent increase in the tax rate.
The budget is a 5.4-percent increase over this year’s $570,000 budget. The amount to be raised by taxes is $290,379, a 3.9-percent increase from this year’s tax levy.
The budget will raise the total tax rate from $3.69 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $3.75 per $1,000. A person owning a $100,000 house will pay $375 in property taxes in 2007, an increase of $7 over this year’s bill.
Assessed property values are projected to increase by 2.1 percent, to almost $54 million.
Under the budget, the town supervisor’s salary will increase by $170, to $4,415; the trustees’ salaries will each increase by $35, to $910.
The highway superintendent’s salary will increase by almost $4,000, to $38,586; the town clerk’s salary will increase by $170, to $4,370. The tax collector will be paid $1,875, a $75 increase over this year’s salary.
Town Supervisor Chuck Adams said the salary increases somewhat compensate for the rising health costs for town employees.
Under the 2007 budget, town employees will have to pay 20 percent of their insurance premiums and a co-payment for office visits.
Previously, employees haven’t had to pay any part of their insurance premiums or a co-payment, he said.
Adams said town employees aren’t happy about the higher insurance costs, but it had to happen.
“Well, you got to when you look at the total cost of insurance for heaven’s sake,” he said.
The town’s health insurance costs will drop from $40,600 to $28,890.




Cortland receives state grant for fairgrounds work

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The state has awarded the Cortland County fairgrounds a $32,500 grant to improve buildings at the complex off Homer and Fisher avenues in Cortlandville.
Richard Bush, fairgrounds supervisor, said money will most likely go toward a new roof on the agricultural building.
“The one on there is an aluminum roof and it’s leaking,” he said.
That agricultural building — a 70-by-200-foot barn on the south side of the fairgrounds — is used for shows and other events, he said.
Bush said the roof was built in the 1970s with straight nails. When the roof heats up, it expands, making the nail holes bigger.
A steel roof with screw nails would ensure the roof doesn’t open up, he said.
Bush said he did not know how much a new roof would cost, but that the $32,500 would cover most of the bill.
The remaining cost would be paid for by money in the fair’s general fund, he said.
Bush said he did not know when the fair’s board would vote to approve the roof, since it does not know when exactly it will receive its check from the state.
The money will come from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
Once a project application is approved, it usually takes about four months for the state to distribute a first payment to the contractor, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets Web site.