Annual DIA dinner celebrates the best of downtown Ithaca

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A vibrant and busy downtown in Ithaca isn’t the result of luck. It’s due to the hard work of local business owners, investors, members of the community, and a hardworking Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA). To celebrate the fruits of all this labor, DIA celebrated with its annual awards dinner last Thursday at Hotel Ithaca.

This year’s awards went to:

  •  The Watershed for Emerging Business of the Year, accepted by Owners Ashley Cake and Dave Thomas. The quiet bar on State Street opened around two years ago and helped to start a conversation in the local bar scene about how businesses like bars can make a positive change in the communities they operate in through initiatives like Barstander Intervention, which teaches bartenders how to intervene in possible sexual harassment scenarios. The staff of the Watershed were all trained in Barstander Intervention from the very beginning. You might be “surprised, possibly concerned” by how much city business is discussed in The Watershed, Myrick joked while introducing the award.
  • Tompkins Financial Corporation for Economic Development Partner of the Year, accepted by CEO Greg Hartz. With a brand new building, Tompkins Financial consolidated several of its offices into one right in the heart of downtown. While the company could have built outside of Ithaca, where it likely would have been cheaper to build, it decided to invest in the City of Ithaca. By vacating several other offices in the downtown area opportunities became available for other organizations to move in. The new Tompkins County Center for Culture and History will soon be opening in bank alley in one of the former Tompkins Financial buildings. 
  • Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce for Nonprofit Partner of the Year, accepted by Chamber President Jennifer Tavares and Vice President of Tourism and Community Relations, Peggy Coleman. Ithaca is home to dozens of nonprofit organizations with dozens of missions, but all have found a solid partner in the Chamber of Commerce when it comes to fundraising, marketing, and networking. You don’t have to be a business to take advantage of the resources available through the Chamber, and for that, the Chamber was awarded Partner of the Year.
  • Sunny Days for Retailer of the Year, accepted by owner Deirdre Kurzweil. The store that specializes in gifts made by local artists and retailers recently moved from the corner of Cayuga and Green to an open storefront right on the Commons, a decision Kurzweil made after consulting her clients through social media. During the holiday season, Sunny Days opened a pop-up shop in the new space that did well. Now permanently situated next to Home Green Home, the store continues to thrive, selling hundreds of different products by Finger Lakes retailers.
  • Asha Sanaker for Board Member of the Year. Sanaker, former General Manager of Buffalo Street Books, has used her position as Treasurer on the DIA board to be a strong advocate for local businesses. This will be Sanaker’s final year of her term on the Board of Directors.
  • JoAnn Cornish for a Lifetime Achievement Award. Cornish, the Director of Planning and Economic Development, has been working for the City of Ithaca for 20 years. While presenting the award, Myrick (who said he insisted on being the one to present Cornish her award), spoke to her work to get the new Ithaca Commons completed, among her many other contributions. “JoAnn has led the City’s efforts to encourage new downtown development over the past years, an effort that has resulted in over 1.2 million square feet of new buildings,” according to a release from the DIA about the annual awards night.
  • Mack Travis for a Lifetime Achievement Award. The longtime Ithaca developer is a founding member of the DIA and served as the organization’s president for many years. Last year, Travis published “Shaping a city: Ithaca, New York, A Developer’s Perspective” with his insights on the development of the city since the construction of the original Commons in 1971. The Ithaca we know today would not have been possible without the development shepherded by Travis.
  • Gary Ferguson for a surprise Lifetime Achievement Award. The current Executive Director of the DIA was given the surprise award to a standing ovation of the whole ballroom. After accepting his own award Travis shared his early thoughts about Ferguson who arrived in Ithaca 20 years ago with two goats in tow. Since then, Ferguson, who has a national reputation for downtown development, has dedicated his time and talents to the refurbishment of the Commons and promoting local businesses.

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