Students help downtown revival

By Kelly McCarthy

February 20, 2013 Updated Feb 20, 2013 at 7:43 PM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The hundreds of students who now call downtown their home are adding to the city's reinvention.

Ask any business owner, and they'll say their shop is only as successful as it's loyal customers, and that the key to any popular downtown is more feet on the streets.

"Our company really wanted to do something to help revitalize downtown," said Jeff Smetana, vice president of the Newman Development Group. "We identified these parcels here because they're right at the confluence of two rivers, in a prime spot and really under utilized."

Twin River Commons brings together students and housing, and it's helping to boost the city's resurgence. Private student housing options place hundreds of Binghamton University students on downtown's doorstep, and their interests are not so different from the community's.

"If there was any one thing that I could point to that I could say, this got downtown started, It would be that (student housing)," said Tim Grippen, president of the Commission on Downtown Binghamton Development.

And the new residents agree.

"Students are only here for a few years so they're more concentrated on having a good time and living their college experience," said Binghamton University graduate student Michael Wong. "But doing so helps the economy as well. So it's kind of a cycle."

Some residents feel bearing the Binghamton University name is associated with the city as a whole.

"I have a lot of pride in being a student at Binghamton. I think what would hurt the most is seeing everything around it crumble," said Hember Salcedo, a senior at Binghamton University.

A good time for anyone usually involves good food. The owner of Burger Mondays Bar & Grille knows that different times of the day mean a different type of crowd.

"I have a professional business crowd at lunch time Monday through Friday," said Burger Monday's Owner Robert Hutchings. "Saturday's lunch crowd is usually filled with a lot of students."

Students say they love the diversity downtown has to offer.

"There are a lot of restaurants. I've been to most of the local restaurants around here and those are some of the best I've ever been to and I'm from Long Island right near the city," Wong said.

Students say they have plenty of options to keep them busy downtown, but keeping their interests after graduation is a challenge with which the city continues to face.

"We're all struggling with that," Grippen said. "Trying to find a way to make sure there will be enough opportunities for graduating seniors to stay in this community."

The hope is students who are drawn to downtown living will want to stay after graduation.

"You have to feel like that would encourage them to try to stay," Smetana said. "If they like living here then after graduation, why not stay?"

For some restaurant owners it brings optimism, although those same owners are guarded in their outlook.

"I think for downtown Binghamton to really be revitalized, I think for this area to really grow and stay strong the university is such a key component of that," Hutchings said. "So if the community and the university isn't kind of linked together as one, then I think we're really losing something overall."

Not everyone is on board.

"I have to feel like even for the folks that may be a little skeptical about having the students down here, I have to feel like they think this has turned out pretty well," Smetana said. "I just think it adds so much to the city. I think anyone would be hard-pressed to say anything other than it's been a great success."

Newman Development Group recently announced its plans to add more student housing in the Vestal area.

The new project will have a similar design as the Twin River Commons housing downtown.