Preservation & Restoration
Corning's Gaffer District and the Market Street Restoration Agency
In 1974, the Market Street Restoration Agency (MSRA) was established to guide the revitalization of downtown Corning following the flood of 1972. After the flood, many communities began widespread demolition of their downtowns, seeing the flood's devastation as a route toward "urban renewal." Corning took a different approach, relying on a movement toward historic preservation, which had begun before the flood, to keep the City's character in place. As its downtown evolved into a restoration project that was later emulated by communities across the country, Market Street Restoration was modeled by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the creation of its National Main Street Program and the Main Street Manager concept. Now known as one of the very first downtown revitalization projects in the United States, Corning's renewal, led by Norman Mintz, working together with the merchants, business and property owners became the gold standard for revitalizing an historic downtown.
In the early 1980s, Corning Enterprises joined the effort at the forefront of this transformation, providing vision, leadership, and resources to the community. However, what started as a restoration initiative from the flood soon blossomed into a collaboration of agencies working on advancing the economic development, quality of life, and historic preservation of Corning's downtown. In the late 1980s, Corning Enterprises led the way in revitalizing Corning's downtown by recruiting major retailers to Market Street.
Sorge's Restaurant exemplifies the success of the private-public partnership in Corning. Destroyed in a fire in late 2008, it opened again in April of 2010 with a new look that paid homage to its rich history. The City of Corning Revolving Loan Fund, the NY Main Street Grant, federal historic preservation tax credits, and tax code 444a made the project possible.
In 1995, MSRA felt that it was important to continue its leadership role in main street revitalization by illustrating the vitality garnered in a downtown by revitalizing its upper floors for residential use. It was also vital to historic commercial buildings that require maintenance as they age. Income garnered from first-floor space is inadequate to support the health of two and three-story buildings that are vacant upstairs. Rehabilitation to develop upper floors and produce income to support the aging infrastructure of old buildings became necessary to the health of the downtown. Over the next five years, MSRA Executive Director Elise Johnson-Schmidt rallied the support of the City, State Building Code officials, Corning Enterprises, Three Rivers Development, and the property owners to build the necessary support to embark upon the development of upper floors for market-rate housing. Corning knew that to create a sense of neighborhood in the downtown, Corning had to make it an attractive place to live and took the lead on assembling a team of community leaders and merchants to develop a downtown repositioning plan.
The result was a comprehensive strategy that consolidated the resources of several agencies and created a single vision for the future of the downtown and the establishment of Corning's Gaffer District. James R. Houghton, CEO of Corning Incorporated, together with MSRA, hosted meetings with crucial property owners, to discuss and champion how it could successfully embark on its first project. It was felt that if MSRA could work through obstacles such as resident parking, development cost, historic building code issues, and preconceived ideas about living above businesses, it could complete one project, and others would follow.