Downtown Ithaca Wants to Look More Like Sweden

10 02 2010

These days, and “progressive” urban development scheme starts with a much publicized and criticized plan. Ithaca, being that little bastion of liberal progressiveness, launched its own plan 18 months ago, and now the Downtown Ithaca Alliance has decided to share the fruits of its planning process for public input. The original plan can be obtained here.

The plan is a vision for downtown Ithaca in 2020. Ignoring the fact they spent a year and a half to discuss a vision ten years away, the plan has some merits and some lovely little conceptual drawings. Which I’m convinced were designed by someone who has a fascination for modern Scandinavian architecture.

The plan itself asks for an additional 200,000 square feet of office space, 500 residential units and more pedestrian traffic for retail outlets in the downtown area. Fitting these components in, along with staying within the city’s rather stringent zoning, is no easy task. Some of the other assets the Alliance would like to see downtown are a combined city-county building, a teen activities center and a fixed-rail trolley line.

First of all, good luck with the trolley line. The original line that went up East State Street and behind Cascadilla Hall closed in 1935. Putting a new one in within the next decade is a pipe dream because of the sheer financial costs associated with infrastructure implementation. Long story short, no one has the cash to put in a new fixed-rail line.

Some of the desired developments I am quite fond of. The conceptual drawing above is for a parking lot near the Cornell Daily Sun Building on West State Street. It’s a great redevelopment that looks to be a mid-size residential or commercial structure that stands out, but not ostentatiously, from the streetscape. The architecture seems to be modernist/International style with a couple historical throwbacks such as the cornice on the background building. To be honest, something like that would fit in well with Weill Hall as a future building at Cornell.

Inversely, this I despise wholeheartedly. This is a conceptual drawing for the city-county building. I never cared for the whole “ooh, let’s be edgy and not align the windows” theme, which was used on the West Campus Dorms. It’s like architecture by first graders. The space is a current parking lot next to Ithaca City Hall, which is actually the brown brick building in back.  The idea of developing this lot, I give a big thumbs up. Right now, I’m glad this is only a conceptual drawing.

I cannot stress how much I am a fan of the redevelopment of the Trebloc Building. First, let’s see if I actually bothered to take a photo of the current architectural turd:

It was in the shot unintentionally. For perspective, I took this photo on the corner of the intersection shown in the conceptual drawing. This brick POS is in the middle of Ithaca’s downtown. This building was built in 1974 as part of the urban renewal era, and was originally meant to be 2 floors, but the developers then decided to not add the second floor. It has also been the sight of multiple concepts, such as this proposal by Andrew Wetzler. The DIA suggests a 100,000+ square foot office building for the site; if it occupied the full site, this translates to about four of five floors. I keep my fingers crossed this may be redeveloped someday.

This redevelopment concept is for the parking area/ back of the Ithaca Journal Building. It’s a residential proposal that fits in somewhat to current zoning; the downtown plan does propose some minor height changes on some parcels, about a dozen going from 60 to 85 feet if certain incentives, such as affordable housing, are met. Love the idea, could care less for the design. This building looks like something out of my nightmares.

In the past year or so, a proposal was submitted to the RestoreNY program to redevelop the one-story Night and Day Building into a five-story building. Well, the proposal wasn’t accepted, but the vision is still there. This conceptual design makes use of the false second floor and adds affordable housing to the structure. Hell, I give it a thumbs up. If only a developer could make the project feasible.

For perspective, we’re looking east from the Holiday Inn, towards the new parking garage. This is one of the largest conceptual proposals, for a site currently used by a couple of small businesses and part of Pritchard Autos (where I once went as part of a project on EPA mileages; the owner, a 70-something man named Bill Pritchard, was super friendly). The project gets away with being so large because it is next to a massive parking garage and a ten-story hotel, so massing is appropriate for this area.

They may just be visions, but I would be just as excited as the DIA if these were to become real proposals in the years ahead. One can only hope.


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16 02 2010
Ex-Ithacan

I’m sure these renderings aren’t any kind of desired look. Too vague. But the idea that density and height might be possible gives me hope that downtown Ithaca will become an important destination for the area, as well as a more urban environment. It would be great to see at least half of the proposals become reality.

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