December 27, 2007


City group builds partnerships

Downtown organization wants to bring in more development


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cortland Downtown Manager Lloyd Purdy is shown standing Monday on the roof of the Beard Building overlooking Main Street. The nearly two-year-old organization has introduced music and cultural events downtown and has plans for more improvements in the coming year.

Staff Reporter

Approaching its two-year anniversary, the Cortland Downtown Partnership has begun to create a more vibrant and developed downtown for Cortland, and it has big goals for the year to come.
“Right now we are at a very stable position. I am very excited about the progress,” said Lloyd Purdy, executive director of the partnership. “Downtown looks better; it’s active with more people. Certainly we are anxious to keep pushing.”
Over the past two years, the organization has drawn more than $650,000 in state and federal grant monies into the community.
The grants were used to investigate potential commercial and cultural uses of vacant second and third stories in buildings downtown, and to promote local events such as live music performances and advertising to promote business downtown.
Purdy said the partnership officially began in January 2006.
However, the idea of the Cortland Downtown Partnership was created in October 2005 when the Downtown Business Association and the Cortland City Improvement Corp. joined together to create the umbrella organization to reorganize how downtown projects are administered.
Since it began, the partnership has not only grown in size, but also helped to build partnerships with existing organizations in the community.
“We have been able to use downtown as a nexus that brings together the energy and strengths of some of Cortland’s other community center organizations,” Purdy said. “We have had a lot of success introducing culture to the commerce of downtown Cortland.”
Other organizations that Cortland Downtown Partnership have teamed up with are City Hall, local property owners, the county Business Development Corp., SUNY Cortland, Homer High School, local businesses and the Cultural Council of Cortland County.
As a result of the partnerships and with state, federal and foundational grants, Cortland was introduced to 40Below Cortland, live music performances downtown and throughout the county, the first-ever Taste of Downtown as a part of the annual Sidewalk Festival, the County-wide Art Trail with the Downtown Arts Tour and artwork at the newly established Beard Building Gallery at 9 Main St.
Along with the events, the Cortland Downtown Partnership has also begun investigating potential commercial and cultural uses of vacant second and third stories in the buildings downtown, using a $100,000 federal grant and a partnership between City Hall and local property owners.
“This is an impressive accomplishment because it’s unusual for a city to receive federal money in this manner,” Purdy said. “There is a lot of open space that needs to be filled to help drive the economy. Downtown has the space and it has the history.”
Purdy added that by this time next year he hopes local developers will be moving toward creating residential units and professional offices in the vacant second and third stories of downtown’s buildings, and also expects to have spent a lot of his time outside the county recruiting regional businesses to expand into Cortland.
“The idea is to put in the mind of business owners, downtown Cortland on the map,” he said.
Dale Taylor, owner of Sarvay Shoes on Main Street, said although he thinks the partnership is doing well to start, he has not seen an increase in business.
“I’m hopeful they can get some other businesses downtown,” he said. “Right now for instance, there is a void in women’s clothing. It seems like every time we have an empty store it’s filled with a food venue. Until we get more businesses, mine will be static.”
“The events bring people downtown, but it hasn’t helped my business,” said Matt Belknap, owner of Action Sports on Main Street.
With the help of SUNY Cortland’s GIS lab, a Web-based digital model of historic downtown is being created to use in planning, business recruitment and marketing.
“This cutting edge educational opportunity is tied to historic downtown Cortland,” Purdy said. “We are trying new projects and seeing some impressive results.”
SUNY Cortland’s Center for Economic Education students are also mentoring Homer High School students in economics curriculum, developing ideas for business models.
“They are young minds thinking of the future of this community,” Purdy said.
Other goals the Cortland Downtown Partnership has for 2008 are to update and beautify downtown’s streetscape and create a winter event that celebrates Cortland’s unique natural resources.
Purdy said the announcement of the event, which will take place in March, would happen early in the New Year.




Local lawyers defend county attorney

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Several local attorneys have come out in support of the County Attorney’s Office, alleging the county administrator is unqualified to be making the accusations of misconduct he has leveled at the office and that this is another example of heavy-handed administration.
Schrader defended his actions and accused the lawyers of having ulterior motives.
With local attorney Mike Shafer of the Riehlman, Shafer & Shafer law firm acting as spokesman, the lawyers also urged legislators to think hard before they renew County Administrator Scott Schrader’s contract in three years.
Shafer and local attorneys Mardis Kelsen and Matt Neuman held a press conference on the steps of the County Courthouse early Wednesday afternoon. Shafer stressed that they were there as individual attorneys, not speaking for the county Bar Association.
Schrader had given a memorandum to the county Budget and Finance Committee on Dec. 13, indicating he believed County Attorney Ric Van Donsel’s recommended settlements for two properties on Williams and Randall streets — included in the failed south Main Street Public Health Building project — were too high and that a criminal investigation was warranted.
“Mr. Schrader’s outrageous suggestion that the District Attorney’s office conduct a criminal investigation concerning the conduct of the County Attorney’s Office,” Shafer said in a prepared statement, “while arising out of the aftermath of the failed South Main Street Development Project, is part and parcel of the County Administrator’s consistent practice of pointing blame at others when one of his schemes does not come to fruition as he would have hoped.”
Van Donsel has not been willing to comment to the Cortland Standard on the matter.
Schrader had also suggested an investigation into Assistant County Attorney Ron Walsh’s conduct, given that Walsh had represented Steve Lissberger, the former owner of the Randall Street property, in a sale to a third party in August without notifying the county.
Walsh said Dec. 14 he was unaware that his client was involved in negotiations with the county at the time the property was sold — Lissberger filed his claim in April, Schrader said — and that he had represented Lissberger when the property was originally purchased in March 2006.
Schrader said this morning that he was still drafting the formal request for an investigation to be presented to the district attorney.



Charges ruled out in drowning

Police say the death of a 4-year-old girl at a Lapeer campground was an accident.

Staff Reporter

The case involving a 4-year-old Syracuse girl who drowned in a pond at a local campground in August was closed Wednesday, with no criminal charges filed.
The Cortland County District Attorney’s Office decided no criminal charges would be brought against family friends who were watching the girl the night she was found in the pond.
The Cortland County Sheriff’s Department said Lois Ayer, 63, of 111 Iroquois Lane, Liverpool, and Peter Rees, also of Liverpool, whose age was not available from police, were supervising Grace Murray and her brother on Aug. 4 at the Country Hills Campground in Lapeer.
Capt. Glen Mauzy of the Sheriff’s Department confirmed in August that Grace Murray was not wearing a floatation device. Bessie Ragan, 36, Murray’s mother, told the Cortland Standard in August that she had sent a floatation device with her daughter when she went on a trip with family friends.
Mauzy said Rees was watching the group of children at the campground pond when Grace Murray was reported missing.
The investigation had been ongoing since her death on Aug. 4, and was finally closed after more than four months when police received Grace Murray’s toxicology report last week.
Grace’s father, Bill Murray, would not say Wednesday whether the family is considering a civil suit, but he did say “there were inconsistencies in the report.”
Grace Murray was reported missing by her brother at approximately 7:46 p.m. and was found under water in the pond at 7:53 p.m.
She was taken to Cortland Regional Medical Center and then to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, where she was pronounced dead.