From Mayor to Mayor: Ithaca Mayor Shares What Works in His City with Burlington Mayor

Mayor Myrick's talk is part of the Let's Talk Progress speaker series

BURLINGTON, Vt. - From Cayuga Lake to Lake Champlain, nearly 300 miles separate Ithaca, New York and Burlington, Vt.

While there is a lot of distance, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick says both cities are similar in a lot of ways.

Both Ithaca and Burlington are college towns, and both have undergone construction in their respective downtowns.

Wednesday night, Myrick was in town to give some insight on some of the ways his city survived an overhaul on its Downtown Commons.

"So, building new Marriotts right off the Commons, building new housing, both affordable and market rate right on the Commons," said Myrick.

Myrick says Ithaca's downtown revitalization was successful because over lower taxes, and "making the city more livable, more walkable, and a more interesting place to be."

"We have fewer vacancies on the Commons than we've ever had before. More businesses are opening up, even as nationally, retail is suffering, and it's because we've been able to bring more people to live in the urban core," said Myrick.

He also explained what's worked to keep his college town thriving year-round.

"Much like Burlington, we have summer on our side, it's beautiful to be here this time of year, and we've leaned into tourism, particularly agro-tourism, as the wineries expand, we create incentives for breweries and distilleries to expand in our community, it brings people from all over the world. Frankly, they fill up the hotel rooms and keep the city buzzing even when the students aren't around," said Myrick.

The Ithaca Mayor is also in Burlington for the Mayors Innovation Event this week. Thursday he'll be on a panel to discuss municipal responses to the opiate epidemic.

It's something Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger is looking forward to hearing.

"Given the importance of this issue, again, I think having a mayor, another community that's really grappling with this is going to be something helpful for us and I think hopefully helpful to the other cities here in town," said Weinberger.

"We lost more people in 2016 to opiate overdoses than we've ever lost in a single year to gun violence...than we've ever lost in a single year to car accidents. This is unacceptable, so we have to do something new," said Myrick.

Last year, Myrick made national headlines; the young mayor proposed the nation's first safe consumption site in America.

"It sounds like a radical idea, we would be supervising people while the consume drugs, but to me, the only radical idea would be to allow this kind of suffering to continue," said Myrick.

It's something Mayor Weinberger says he's not on board with yet in Burlington, but says as the crisis evolves, it's something the city could consider looking into.

"We need to get to treatment without delay, we need to look at new investments. I believe to in residential treatment opportunities both in state and out of state, we need to look at prison reform. Our focus has been on other issues, but we're certainly paying close attention to how that innovation is playing out elsewhere," said Weinberger.

Myrick says his city is also working on building more shelters and getting more people into rehab so "they can kick their drug addiction before they resort to crimes to support it."

In regards to keeping his downtown safe amidst an opiate crisis, Myrick says Ithaca has in part borrowed from Burlington a model of street outreach workers.

"So social workers that we put on the ground around the clock that can respond in real time that are not police officers. This actually helps prevent problems before they even start," said Myrick.

The Mayors Innovation event is closed to the public, but other items of discussion range from 21st century policing to climate change.

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