Tompkins Center for History & Culture officially open

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After years of planning and work, Tompkins County now has a comprehensive center for its history, culture, and several of the organizations that preserve and promote both.


The ribbon cutting for the new Tompkins Center for History and culture in bank alley was a crowded affair last Friday as what seemed to be half the county came out to see the long-awaited project in its final state.


For several years, The History Center in Tompkins County has been interested in moving to a new home. Its location at the Gateway Center was a little bit out of the way, not great for pulling in foot traffic, and parking was difficult. When the Tompkins Trust Company moved from its location in bank alley to the new building across Seneca Street, the opportunity became available to create a centralized space for local organizations, and the History Center, to move in and make the space their own.


With help from the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County Legislature, and the state, the money was raised to make the necessary renovations to get it up to code. The county purchased the building using casino revenue to house the History Center and other non-profits. The former Trust Company was transformed into an entirely new venue. The teller counter on the first floor was removed, the vaults were renovated into exhibits, the famous Tommy Plane was moved in piece by piece, and the History Center archives were carefully organized in the brand-new space.


On the second and third floors, local organizations moved into the now empty offices. All in all, 12 different organizations will have a presence in the new Center for History and Culture: Discover Cayuga Lake, The Discovery Trail, The Tompkins Chamber, Visit Ithaca, The Dorothy Cotton Institute, The Susan M. Christopherson Community Planning Center, The History Center in Tompkins County, Historic Ithaca, Wharton Studio Museum, Community Arts Partnership, Ithaca Aviation Heritage Foundation, and the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra.


“The trustees and the staff of the History Center in Tompkins County are delighted to be part of the Tompkins Center for History & Culture and to be located in these very historic buildings, each with their own rich history,” said outgoing Executive Director of the History Center Rod Howe, after pausing to compose himself. Howe is leaving his position at the History Center to run for the Town of Ithaca supervisor position, but has made it a large part of his mission the last several years to get the History Center into a new space, and has been a driving force behind the move to the new center. “They provide a tremendous foundation for carrying out our mission, and being engaged, relevant, and participatory.”


The ribbon cutting festivities were kicked off by a concert from the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers at the Bernie Milton Pavilion. Following the concert, Tadadaho, the spiritual leader who presides over the Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee, opened the presentation. Representatives from the resident organizations, as well as local elected officials and state representatives, presented to the gathered community.


“The Center for History & Culture will be an important addition to the Commons, offering much-needed office space for community organizations, and attractions for locals and visitors alike,” said State Representative Barbara Lifton, after announcing a potential state grant she had nominated the project for to help with the capital improvements for the building.


Following the presentations from representatives from the numerous organizations that will have offices in the new center, the official ribbon cutting was held in front of the entrance to the new center. Once the ribbon was cut the community was invited in to see the new space, explore all of the offices and exhibits, and enjoy refreshments from local businesses like Ithaca Beer Co.


State support for the project came to around $1.4 million. Coupled with private donations, the center transformed the former Trust Company into the center that it is now.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated that the building was purchased from the county. The building is in fact owned by the county. The story has been edited to reflect the correction.

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