Stacey Payette, owner of Sheldon Hill Vintage and Estate Jewelry on the Commons, has been a longtime member of the downtown business community, but just this year decided to trade her far-flung residence in Enfield for a historic two-bedroom apartment charmingly appointed with wood floors, Romanesque archways, and double-hung picture windows overlooking Dewitt Park. 

She has described the move as nothing short of transformative: “I step onto the sidewalk every morning and feel exhilarated. Sometimes I have breakfast at Café Dewitt. Other times I take a walk and appreciate that bit of exercise before walking to my store. I used to drive nine miles each way when I lived in the country, and now I can’t remember the last time I filled my gas tank!”

Indeed, the ease of getting around is perhaps the most vital and distinctive aspect of the downtown living experience. According to Walk Score, a tool that assesses the walkability of neighborhoods throughout the country, downtown Ithaca is a “Walker’s Paradise,” with over 50 food and beverage establishments and over 100 retail stores and personal care services within a few pedestrian-friendly blocks. 

Downtown Ithaca is also the main hub of the TCAT bus system and Ithaca Carshare. Downtown’s walkability and public transit accessibility make for a healthier, more connected, and more sustainable lifestyle. 

It’s also what makes downtown Ithaca an affordable option: irrespective of notoriously high rents, downtown Ithaca turns out to be one of the most reasonably-priced neighborhoods in the region according to the H+T Index, a comprehensive affordability tool that takes into account the costs of both housing and transportation. You don’t need a car for most daily errands, but even if you keep one for longer trips, like Stacey does, reduced fuel and maintenance costs can more than make up for the higher rent.

For those like Stacey who have a newfound interest in the charm and convenience of the downtown lifestyle, there has never been better time to explore the options. This year has seen the completion of several new housing projects, ranging from the sleek, energy-efficient Lofts @ Six Mile Creek with their ten-foot ceilings and spectacular window walls looking out on the creek to the quaint, but modernized apartments above Mockingbird Paperie on the Commons, which juxtapose clean lines with original exposed brick walls dating to the nineteenth century. These and several other recent developments—Seneca Way, Breckenridge Place, The Ives House, and 104 East State—total 146 new housing units and represent a $42 million private investment in Ithaca’s urban core.

This wave of new construction and historically-sensitive restoration has been a tremendous boost to downtown Ithaca’s housing stock, but by all indications, these apartments will rent up fast, and demand will continue to outpace supply. 

Nationwide, the share and volume of rented homes has increased. Leading this trend are young professionals and active seniors: in the last decade, apartment rental increased 18 percent among twentysomethings, while over half of recent retirees who planned a move sought out smaller, more efficient dwellings. Here in downtown Ithaca, a survey by the Danter Company shows a current residential occupancy rate of 99.5 percent—far above the national average—and predicts demand for at least 850 more units within a one-mile radius of the Commons. Planned mixed-use projects like Harold’s Square and the Carey Building will meet some, but not all, of this demand. 

Ultimately, we will look to a second wave of smart infill development in the coming decade to stabilize prices and provide a complete range of sizes and styles to suit our community’s diverse tastes.

If you, too, are curious about this new trend toward vibrant, healthy, and efficient urban living, we warmly invite you to participate in our self-guided Downtown Living Tour on Saturday, April 18, from 1 to 4 p.m. Seven different apartment buildings within a three-block radius will be featured. A $5 ticket purchasable at the Downtown Ithaca Visitor Center—Center Ithaca, 171 The Commons—on the day of the event will get you a lanyard pass, map, and coupons for discounts, samples, and giveaways at numerous downtown establishments like Cinemapolis, Benjamin Peters, Sunny Days, Life’s So Sweet Chocolates, Ithaca Coffee Company, and Finger Lakes Fitness Center. So come on down this Saturday and see for yourself what all the excitement is about! •

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