News Tidbits 8/5: Ithaca Gun Redevelopment in Financial Hell

6 08 2009

This is really funny, because I passed by the site when I arrived back into Ithaca last week, and thought it was curious that no work appeared to be underway even though it was weekday afternoon. However, I didn’t have the camera with me, so I didn’t bother taking photos of the site before I left for places further north.

On the bright side, the blight that was the main building has been torn down; all that remains on the site currently are the debris/soil piles that need to be moved off-site, and of course the Ithaca Gun smokestack that is to be incorporated into a small pocket park when the property is fully redeveloped. So it could be worse.

One thing should be made clear; although there are cost overrruns with the cleanups of the site, the project to rebuild on the site isn’t cancelled. However, results may be late in coming, and may end up different from the initial plans.

The removal of demolition debris at Ithaca Gun has stopped because the development team apparently doesn’t have the money to pay its contractors.

A series of surprises, increased state oversight and community involvement has resulted in cost overruns totaling almost $1 million, according to a letter from property owner Wally Diehl, project engineer Pete Grevelding and developer Frost Travis sent to Mayor Carolyn Peterson on June 30.

The development team initially estimated demolition and cleanup would cost $1.46 million. They now estimate it will cost $2.3 million, according to the letter, which Peterson provided to the Journal on Tuesday.

The cash-flow situation apparently is so tight, the development team can’t afford to dispose of the remaining debris.

“I think there’s basically an issue of having the money in hand to pay people to do the work,” Peterson said. “My focus right now is not to have those piles sitting there.”

She submitted a resolution, which Common Council will consider tonight, asking that the $840,000 in state money intended for redevelopment go instead toward cleanup.

The city earned a $2.3 million state Restore NY grant to subsidize the developers’ project to clean up the site and redevelop it into 33 high-end condos and a public walkway to the Ithaca Falls overlook.

Appointment of a Community Advisory Group, a lengthy asbestos-removal process and “unanticipated environmental procedures, review and approvals” all led to cost overruns, according to the developers’ letter.

Peterson said it cost more than expected to preserve the smokestack and its foundation, deal with some potentially contaminated bricks, and more strictly monitor of the air at and near the site.

Before Travis’ 2007 proposal, Diehl twice proposed condo projects that would have covered cleanup costs without state help, but they were rejected by neighbors as too large. With no subsidy on the redevelopment side, the project “will require some creativity on the part of Travis & Travis and their architects,” the letter stated.

Peterson said she hadn’t heard any discussion about a bigger project or more condo units.

“Certainly, with working with the neighborhood, the preference was the proposed project. So I don’t know if there’s a proposal in mind, but I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if there needs to be some re-thinking,” she said.



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