Over the last few months, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance’s Night Economy Committee has been working to establish some goals on what will make downtown Ithaca a more desirable place to be at any time of the night. While nightlife still thrives, particularly on the weekends and when the students are in town, officials want to make sure those participating in downtown festivities feel safe while they do so.
Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said in the last few years, there has been an increased focus on how downtown Ithaca functions after most businesses close.
“What people don’t realize is that there’s a whole additional economic period that happens late at night, that many of us don’t see because we’re sleeping,” Ferguson said. “Oftentimes our pedestrian counts and the number of people downtown exceeds that of during the day. It’s extremely busy and often has the feel of a festival, there’s that many people there.”
At this time, the only place open 24 hours downtown is Shortstop Deli on E. Seneca Street. Most other places that remain open until midnight or later are located in Collegetown.
Ashley Cake, chair of the Night Economy Committee and owner of the Watershed bar downtown, has been part of the IDA’s board for three years and provides one of the involved voices that knows intimately the economic and social ins-and-outs of downtown Ithaca after dark. During a tour of the nightlife in Ithaca with fellow DIA board members, she noticed how many of her fellow board members were surprised by some of the late-night behaviors downtown.
“I believe that nighttime safety is the overarching umbrella of our concerns,” Cake said. “Particularly [during] what we call bar spill hours, so [the] 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. window. There are nights when there are festival levels of people on the Commons at 1 a.m. There is a lacking infrastructure to support everyone’s safety, fun and pursuit of happiness.”
Ferguson said some safety measures being looked at are how the local colleges and universities keep students safe, both on and off-campus. Though he has found the blue light system implemented on most college campuses may not be suitable for downtown, there are other options the DIA is considering to adopt as part of a long-term plan.
“Most of the time when we think of downtown we think of it during the daytime and what’s going on during the day,” Ferguson said. “Making sure we have a playground, making sure it looks a certain way, and it’s a whole set of discussions when you’re talking about what’s going on at midnight and how should we be dealing with that. It’s interesting, in some cities, they have what’s called nighttime mayors. They’re not elected mayors but they are deputized or designated as being the person to orchestrate or help manage what’s going on, almost like when we have a festival.”
Cake’s eyeing the future challenge of addressing the impending population influx downtown, considering the amount of housing being built. This will inevitably bring more people closer to Ithaca’s downtown core. As a member of the Night Life Safety Coalition, Cake wants to find a way to help businesses that operate at night as they learn to deal with increased demand.
There are ancillary issues that will need to be considered as well. Cake said there has been an increased need for having more efficient means of transportation at night. She wants to ensure people who are leaving bars can get home without an accident, something that demands more accessible transportation options outside of someone getting behind the wheel after drinking. The committee will also be looking into creating safe spaces where people can have a more diverse food options than that of a bar. Being able to foster a safe downtown atmosphere benefits everyone, Cake said, whether they be business owners, carousing college students or passers by.
“A lot of the things we’ve talked about are not only long-term infrastructure and support but resources for individuals and groups to meet their specific challenges and being able to find solutions for problems that we all have in common,” Cake said. “Some of the stuff that came up at the last meeting was about non-police ambassadors or something like the [City of Ithaca] community outreach workers like Tammy Baker and Natalya Cowilich. Folks can have resources to support, not only themselves in questionable or uncomfortable circumstances, but also problem-solving.”