Published in Trumansburg Free Press December 29, 2004


Main Street Project Retrospective

by Bill Chaisson

On December 13, 2004, after nearly a decade of evaluation, design, planning, and public meetings, the State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO; pronounced 'shippo') gave the go-ahead to the Trumansburg Main Street Project. Working plans are now being drawn up, and construction will begin in six to eight months. With this decision a significant threshold has been crossed toward reconstruction of the main thoroughfare through the village. 

On December 15 Scott Sears, Sue Henninger and Mayor John Levine sat down at the village offices to review the long, sometimes difficult, but ultimately rewarding journey that is the Main Street Project.  Sears, a senior extension associate at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, noted that the Main Street Project began in the mid 1990s as a class project led by Professor Paula Horrigan in Cornell's Department of Landscape Architecture. The results of the students' work are collected in a book called 'Main Street, Trumansburg, NY: A Design Guide', which is available from Sue Henninger at the village offices. The initial evaluation in the guide divided the village into three partsóthe Lower Village, the Upper Village and the Eastern Gatewayóand also examined residential areas along Main Street and the 'drive-to' commercial district beyond the eastern edge of Trumansburg.

In the late 1990s, Sears recalled, he , Horrigan and others sought federal grant money for the project that was available as a result of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA; pronounced 'ice tea').  The purpose of the legislation was to fund projects that would make travel easier on the nation's roads and highways.  The Main Street Project received its third ISTEA grant three years ago.

In addition to the Federal money, Sears and Horrigan applied for and received a Hatch Integration Grant from Cornell. These grants allow staff to further the goals of the extension service to build relationships between the academic and the public spheres. Sears and Horrigan were thus able to bring their professional expertise to bear in the village where they are residents. Henninger's positionóher title is 'project assistant'óis wholly dedicated to the enterprise. Many Trumansburg residents have volunteered a great deal of time to see the project through over the years. The project web site (http://mainstreet.trumansburg.ny.us/) lists the members of advisory, evaluation, web site and fundraising committees.

One of the progressive aspects of the Main Street Project has been the systematic effort to solicit community input during the planning stage. Annalisa Lewis Raymer, a graduate student in Cornellís Department of Education, was responsible for the deployment of a process called ìparticipatory evaluationî.  According to an on-line description (http://people.cornell.edu/pages/alr26/
parEval.html) the public are treated as 'stakeholders' with an interest in the outcome of the project and they are invited to "participate substantively in the identification of the [project] issues, the design of the [project], the collection and analysis of the data, and the action taken as a result of the [project] findings."

In 2001 there was a public meeting at the fire station, which initiated a year-and-a-half long flurry of activity. Feedback continues to be sought through a variety of public venues and media. In 2002 one source of feedback came in the form of a public petition against the project, which, while agreeing that the sidewalks should be repaved, urged that there be no narrowing of the streets. Initial 

schematic drawings made public had shown curb extensions that appeared to eliminate parking spaces.

In response the Main Street Project group did a parking survey, observing and counting cars for several days at several different times of the day. It was found that there was a constant turnover of parking spaces, so that parking was essentially always available. It was also shown that the number of parking spaces would remain roughly the same after re-design.

Then, in 2003, SHPO weighed in with their own objections to the project's proposed design. The participation of SHPO was required because Federal money (ISTEA grants) had gone toward the realization of the project. The state agency serves as a 'watchdog' to make sure that no part of the plan compromised the historical integrity of the downtown, should the village want historical status in the future. The specific bones of contention included the heavily used turn in front of Ron Don's Village Pub, the extension of the curb in front of New York Pizzeria, the pattern and color of paving bricks, and the configuration of the intersection of Main and Union Streets. 

Sears, Levine and Henninger all allowed that, although the drawn-out nature of review process had been frustrating, they understood that SHPO was incredibly overworked and understaffed. During the long review period fundraising took center stage. Events like 'Corn on the Curb', 'Festival of Flowers', the community-wide garage sale, a chicken barbeque and a Halloween costume party were organized by a committee chaired by Fran Maguire and including Fred vanDerzee, Don Schlather, Nanette Butler, and Alan and Marilyn Vogel. In addition, there was an on-going sale of commemorative bricks that would be included in the repaving of public spaces in the village. All of these events not only raised money for the project, but kept it in the public eye while progress was stalled by the state review.

Sears said with some feeling that he had heard of many communities that had been defeated by the slowness and particularity of SHPO review process.  Some either gave back funds that they had been awarded or ended up simply doing exactly what SHPO asked them to do. However, in the case of the Trumansburg effort, the familiarity of the project staff with the process and the stubborn resilience of a citizen contingent produced a different outcome. The contradiction between the regulations and expectations of Federal Highways and the Department of Transportation (DOT) and those of SHPO were eventually acknowledged by the state agency. It was also admitted that the 'will of the community' must be factored into SHPO's review process. In the end all of the agencies involved agreed that the Trumansburg Main Street Project was the best designed and most organized effort they had ever seen.

There will now be a review by DOT and Federal Highways, but because they have already been heavily involved in the state evaluation, their process should go forward ahead of schedule. Now that all of the design issues have been resolved, the 'schematic stage' is complete. The Main Street Project has now entered the 'development stage', during which building and engineering issues will come to the fore, to be worked out by Beardsley Design Associates of Auburn and the national firm C & S Engineers. Doug Austic, in his capacity as 'clerk of the works', and Bruce Vann, head of public works, will be the chief village liaisons to the project. Public input will continue to be sought. Interpretive signs are planned for Main Street and it will be up to local citizenry to decide what aspects of Trumansburg history should be highlighted.

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Last revised:  May 11, 2005