News Tidbits 8/5/08: The Development of Ithaca Gun

6 08 2008






City of Ithaca Pledges to Overhaul Contaminated Gun Factory Site

July 30, 2008 – 12:35am
By Molly OToole

On May 30, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced a final resolution for the Ithaca Gun Factory Site, closing a long and precarious chapter in the City of Ithaca’s history. However, many Ithacans feel the future of the site may still be up in the air.

The DEC — in cooperation with Mayor Carolyn Peterson, the City of Ithaca, developers Frost Travis, owner Wally Diehl and a previous pledge by the state — has authored a plan to dissolve the old Ithaca Gun Factory, which has been left stagnating above the rushing waters of Ithaca Falls for the past 125 years.

The $3.02 million public-private partnership — which includes the state’s Restore N.Y. grant contribution — aims to not only fully remediate the site, but to also return it to the public eye by putting in a new public park. A pledge of over $11 million from a voluntary cleanup program and private donations will fund 33 luxury condominiums to be built over this hazardous history with the hope of giving the site a healthier future.

The DEC intends to cover 90 percent of the investigation and remediation of Ithaca Falls Overlook Park with its pledged $700,200 from the 1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act, which is part of the Environmental Restoration Program. Dianne Carleton of the DEC described the program as a “funding mechanism to protect or improve water issues.” These funds join the $2.3 million Restore N.Y. Grant presented to the City in January by former governor Eliot Spitzer for demolition of the factory buildings.

According to a project file of the Ithaca Gun site provided by the New York State Department of Health, demolition is slated to begin in early August.

Optimistically, the new condos could be available for purchase sometime in late 2009 or mid-2010, according to Travis, but he added, “I can tell you the start and complete dates are somewhat of a moving target with respect to development and construction. We won’t know until we’re in the process.” (cont.)


So, I’m always curious about what a new construction will look like. Unfortunately, nothing’s been released for the time being, and probably won’t for the next several months. However, that doesn’t stop speculation.

Consider the developer, Travis and Travis Inc. The firm is responsible for one other major new construction in the Ithaca area; Gateway Commons, a six-story apartment building on East State Street that was completed in early 2007.

The building on the right.


The building was designed by HOLT architects. Now, some developers end up forming a preference for a certain architectural firm. If this were the case with Travis and Travis, then they might seek a continued professional relationship with HOLT architects.

 In this case, the design is for 33 condominiums, limited in height to no more than about 50 feet. This was the end deal of an arduous and exasperating phase in its planning. Developer Wally Diehl wanted to develop the property in 2003, and turn it into a seven-story, 160-unit building with a two-story parking garage [1]. Needless to say, neighbors raised out, citing lost views and a loss of neighborhood character (apparently, the factory that was there 100 years was perfectly acceptable). Diehl tried an 80-unit, 50 ft. tall proposal (no higher than the old factory), but he complained that it was not privately feasible anymore, so the property sat, and a fire in August 2006 served as a wake-up call that the property had to be demolished ASAP (hobos and vandals go in all the time, so sit back and imagine the lawsuit on Ithaca city if someone went in and died inside, even though the factory is considered a hazardous site).

By hazardous site, a couple of things worth noting. The factory made guns for 126 years, closing in 1986. They used a lot of lead. This directly lead to the high lead levels in Fall Creek, where it flows next to the site, and where it was (is?) 500 times beyond the EPA safety level. An effort in 2004 to clean it was attempted by the EPA for 4.8 million dollars in Superfund money. But, lo and behold, they failed to adequately clean it, as lead levels were 460 times higher than the EPA’s goal. Ouch. Oh, and the IJ revealed in 2000 that the site was used to test uranium tubes, so there was uranium contamination as well [2]. So, the site was about as environmentally screwed up as it can get (with the exception of the Love Canal and Chernobyl).

 So the third proposal, backed by a $2.3 million dollar state grant and a $700,200 grant to reclean the site (and $10 million in private funding, through a partnership of Frost Travis and Wally Diehl), offers 33 high-end condos,a public promenade and a small public overlook that includes the smokestack of the factory. Finally, the majority of the opposed now appeased, it looks like everything is ready to go. One hopes.

So back to my curiosity about the design. Picking around the HOLT website [3], one finds their healthcare and higher ed portions of their portfolio. But, they designed student dorms for a couple of schools. So let’s profile those, since they were small-scale living units.

Townhouses, Colgate
Apartments, U. of Vermont

Apartments, U. of Vermont

 So, a rough idea of their design guidelines seems to be postmodern, with rustic influences. It helps that this company seems to have a strong attachment to Cornell; Carpenter Hall renovations, Tatkon Center, Sigma Chi renovations, Goldwin Smith reno, Donlon reno, among others. And they did several designs for IC buildings, so they just love it here (and considering they’re HQ’ed on N. Aurora Street, makes plenty of sense).

So, what might a high-end condo look like? I venture pitched roofs, dormers, and pillared entryways, with a height around 3 of 4 floors. The design will definitely not be a classic, but will have traditional elements, not too unlike the neighboring Gun Hill Apartments.






One response

8 08 2008
Ithaca Real Estate Guy

I hadn’t realized just how much pollution was coming from the old gun factory. Hopefully the DEC can head a successful cleanup operation. A public park sounds fantastic as long as it’s a clean environment.

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