The Sun’s piece regarding the problems with Jason Fane is nothing new. Previous articles over the past several years have done the exact same thing. I personally have never, ever been a fan of Jason Fane. So, since he is the (man? villain?) of the hour, I figured it was worth taking a look at the man who owns so much of Ithaca.
Jason Fane, from as far as I can tell, has been a major landlord in the Ithaca area since the mid-1970s. He is New York bred, holds a civil engineering degree from MIT and a Harvard MBA, and is about 70 years old. The recent Sun article notes that his tenants refused to pay rent in 1974, citing deplorable maintenance of his properties. In 1979, he feuded with the city building commissioner, who condemned one of his properties (with 15 occupants still living in it). An academic study of Ithaca compares quotes from him in 1975 to 2000, where he goes from saying “students aren’t interested in aesthetics” to students “are looking for quality”. By quality, we’re talking $1,400/month in rent. To be fair, Jason Fane knows his business…and for better or worse, he knows how to milk his stakeholders to his advantage.
Cornell has a fairly wealthy student body, such that extremely high rents are acceptable, as some students have the means (or rather, their families do) to afford such rates. Business owners, however, tend to be a different story. A student pays high rents because of proximity to Cornell and high quality of services. For a business, setting up in Collegetown means suffering a major lack of business during academic breaks, not to mention extremely high rents for choice, high-traffic locations…many of which are owned by Jason Fane. As long as the apartments are rented, Fane has no need to try and fill the commercial space, no matter how much students, residents and local officials complain. He’s still making a tidy sum from his residential units, and rather than cut prices to lure in shopkeepers, would prefer to wait until that day when someone is willing to pay his high price – because occasionally, someone will.
Let’s be clear – the man is rich. He owns a real estate empire that stretches from New York City to Toronto, where he is currently developing high-rise condo towers. For more proof, here’s an article where he goes to court over $850k in gold and silver bullion. He also isn’t afraid to weigh in on anything that may affect his business – he was a major opponent of the Cayuga Green apartment project, and he also tried to have the city building commissioner shut down Cornell’s temporary freshman housing in student lounges – presumably, because both had an impact on his business. He is not the compassionate and caring businessman pro-commerce groups like to promote. In fact, a few other c-words – cold, calculating, and controlling – come to mind instead.
In all fairness, Mr. Fane is under no obligation to fill the space, unless he feels a need to deepen his pockets further. But it certainly isn’t doing him any favors in the communities he’s invested in. I guess when you own ten Collegetown properties, several more in downtown Ithaca, and a couple suburban properties, you can afford to do as you please.