Can Ithaca Handle 15 Stories Downtown ?

Categories Housing & Development, Ithaca

By Josh Brokaw

ITHACA — The first draft of plans to build dual 15-story towers along Green Street between City Hall and the new Marriott Hotel were revealed to a Common Council committee on Wednesday night.

In the above image, a “bird’s eye” rendering of the view from the north by architecture firm Cooper Carry, the high-rise on the left is the Marriott, and that on the right is Harold’s Square, now in the pre-construction phase. In between are the two towers, near the 140-foot zoning height limit, that developers Jeffrey Rimland and Peak Campus have proposed for the approximately 350-apartment project. The project, as proposed, also includes a re-build of the Green Street parking garage and a 25,000 square foot (or so) conference center which would directly adjoin the Marriott.


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Rendering by Cooper Carry of view from north of proposed Green Street apartment complex, parking garage, conference center project. Photo: Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers

The first step needed for the plan was completed at Wednesday’s Planning & Economic Development committee meeting, after some discussion. A resolution was passed on to full Common Council that will transfer city-owned property on which the Green Street parking garage stands to the control of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency [IURA].

To the directions the Planning & Economic Development committee was presented for approval, they added one wrinkle: rather than directing the IURA to negotiate with one particular developer, the committee voted to put out a “request for proposals” to developers that might want to take on this project.

The directions also include language that whatever developer is sold the Green Street property must include about “350 housing units not designed exclusively for students, including a substantial number of units to be affordable to low and/or middle income households.”

“Wonderful,” was how local socialist Theresa Alt described the affordable housing requirement during the meeting’s public comment period. “All I’m saying today,” Alt continued, “is bear that in mind. Stand fast when the day comes when developers who have undertaken this say no, no, no, I can’t do it any more. You’re going to have to show a little nerve.”

Later in the meeting, Alderperson Seph Murtagh said “I don’t think this project gets approved without [included affordable housing].”

View from south of proposed Green Street housing/conference center/parking garage project. Photo of Cooper Carry drawings by Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers

James Trasher, engineer with CHA, was the spokesperson for the development group on Wednesday.

“What makes the project go financially is the residential living,” Trasher said. “We heard loud and clear tonight, at previous meetings, the desire for low-income, mixed-income, mid-income components. The project group is evaluating that as well as part of the proposal.”

There are also directions to IURA to require the developer build about 450 parking spaces open to the public, with 90 of those available for short-term parking.

Trasher said the project group is planning on about 525 spaces, once the parking garage has been re-built with one more level than it has now.

It’s also required of any developer that Cinemapolis be kept open and accessible through all phases of construction.


“Elevations” drawn up by architects Cooper Carry for proposed Green Street apartment building/conference center/parking garage. Photo of renderings by Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers

Like all big development proposals that come to City Hall, these plans are likely to take years to complete and will look significantly different if they are executed by any developer at all.
Related: “Conference Centers Don’t Make Money,” But Ithaca is Ready For One

Of the city’s current suitors, Rimland, of Ithaca Properties LLC, is the locally-known quantity. Rimland is the current owner of the Rothschild building and the building underneath the eastern portion of the Green Street parking garage where Tompkins Trust has offices – meaning that his Ithaca Properties LLC holds part of the land needed to make this project work. Rimland was the original proposer of the hotel project that became the Marriott, a process that included  three years and 15 votes at City Hall to buy back a 2,140 square foot piece of land that he had initially given to the city when purchasing the Rothschild building.

Rimland still has a stake in the Marriott, though his Ithaca Properties LLC sold the parcel the Marriott stands on to “Hotel Ithaca LLC,” controlled by Urgo Hotels, in December 2014 for $2.4 million.

Peak Campus representatives Jeff Githens, president of development, and Andrew Vendal, vice president of construction, were present and quiet at City Hall during the September 13 meeting.

Atlanta-based Peak Campus manages over 50,000 beds of student housing nationwide and has developed about 15,000 beds’ worth, according to its own press releases. Peak Campus has increased its presence in upstate New York in recent years.  Peak manages two properties in Binghamton aimed at SUNY students there, The Printing House and 20 Hawley Street. In March, a Peak-affiliated LLC broke ground on “Theory Syracuse.” The $66.6 million, 604-bed apartment building received a sales tax exemption worth “$1.36 million and a mortgage recording tax exemption worth $363,750,” from the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency, according to a Rick Moriarty report.

James Trasher, CHA engineer, presents a plan for a 350ish-bed/conference center/parking garage development to a Common Council committee with developers behind him in the dark blazers. September 13, 2017. Photo: Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers

At its October meeting, Common Council will have to vote on transferring the city-owned land under the Green Street garage to IURA. If IURA were to select a proposal from a developer, a public hearing would be required on selling the property.

TruthSayers will have a story soon on the rather sorry state of the Green Street parking garage, built in 1974. If you’d like to contribute opinions or reporting on the ever-popular topics of downtown Ithaca development, affordable housing, parking, and tax abatements, email josh.brokaw@truthsayers.org


 

Help Support TruthSaying Reporting

If you ever have photos, video, or reporting from an event you’d like to share on TruthSayers, email josh.brokaw@truthsayers.org. Be a reporter! You can support TruthSayerswork with a donation, too. Founding reporter Josh Brokaw is getting paid from nowhere else for this work; this story took about 5 hours of his time. $10 from 5 people would pay him a bit above minimum wage, which would be pretty cool.

Josh Brokaw is an independent reporter based in Ithaca, N.Y.

Email josh.brokaw@truthsayers.org with tips, story suggestions, and gentle criticism.

Twitter: @jdbrokaw