Groundbreaking day was filled with optimism, blessings, and an air of promise.
Bishop Cunningham offered the blessings, thinking ahead to the day when people will eventually occupy this modern housing complex, which will have green elements, such as Energy Star appliances.
“Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God,” the bishop said. “Lord, we ask you to be close to your servants who will live here on this property. … This facility will be a shelter for them when they are home. Be their companion when they are away; and their welcome guest, when they return. We ask, Lord, that you receive them into the loving place you have prepared for them now and in the years to come.”
It was the day’s master of ceremonies, Christopher Community’s Reicher, who offered a promise:
“Christopher Community is committed not to just building housing, but to build people’s homes, and as part of our commitment to our funding community, we will be operating this building and maintaining this building for at least the next half century.”
About an hour after the ceremony ended in the Riverview Avenue lot filled with 10-foot-high mounds of excavated dirt, one cluster of red, green, and white balloons with a white streamer broke free. It sailed high into the sky, quickly.
The day, it seemed, was about a community on the rise.
Neighbors welcome apartment complex in Cortland
Rick Hollenbeck stood virtually motionless, transfixed, in his yard on April 27 in Cortland. He was looking across Riverview Avenue, over the 3-foot-high red temporary fencing, and past the tethered balloons that were bouncing in the breeze.
Hollenbeck’s eyes were locked on the methodical craftsmanship of excavator Stan Covert, who was at the controls of a giant Caterpillar track machine.
“He’s good,” Hollenbeck said, and he should know: He used to be a construction man himself. “They’re just going at it,” he added.
Hollenbeck knew something was up that morning: He saw the tent for dignitaries being set up. The dignitaries would arrive later in the afternoon for the groundbreaking of the Riverview Project, which will provide 39 housing units for a diverse population in the low- to middle-income range.
Hollenbeck has been observing life in Cortland for his entire 60 years. He doesn’t miss much. “I’m a little fixture out here on the lawn,” he said.
He welcomes the construction. “I kept waiting and waiting, and finally it happened,” Hollenbeck said. “It’s good. Definitely going to make the neighborhood look different, there’s no doubt about that. I think it’s going to be nice seeing a new structure.”
Hollenbeck remembers when Catholic Charities had two houses at the excavation site. An even bigger excavation machine than the one Hollenbeck was watching knocked them down recently: Both came down in only four hours.
“If they want to build a new unit and stuff, fine,” he said. “Catholic Charities has always maintained everything. … Catholic Charities does help out the community.”
Hollenbeck figures that the new apartment complex is going to look nice. “I’m not disappointed a bit,” he said. “I’m not disappointed a bit. … Even my wife [Mary Ellen] gets a kick out if it –she can’t believe how fast it’s going in.”
Also at the scene April 27 were Adam Rundell, 36, of Maple Avenue in Cortland, and his sons Tallon, 10, and Ascher, 7. They were passing by on their way to do some fishing.
Rundell has no problem with the Riverview Project, as long as it helps local people.
“Bring in people that are already living in hotels around here,” he said, “that have kids, and are low income, sure. But don’t import more people from Syracuse, Binghamton, Vestal, Rochester.”
Rundell definitely sees the need for affordable housing in Cortland.
He lives with his wife and their four children in a two-bedroom apartment. The rent is $500, plus utilities. “You want three or four bedrooms? … $100 a bedroom,” he said.
“We can’t get an apartment with more than three bedrooms for less than $800 a month,” Rundell said, “because, No. 1, they’re all taken for students, or No. 2, we don’t qualify because there’s too much money coming into the household, or, there’s not enough money coming into the household.
“So, it’s one of those things where, you want to build it? By all means, it’s going to help drastic numbers of people, but make it local people, make it local people.”