Press Bay Court (108-114 West Green Street) Construction Update, 10/2017

25 10 2017

The tagline used on the Voice was “Press Bay Alley is as quirky as Ithacans like to think they are.” But it’s not just a quip. Press Bay Alley and its upcoming sibling, Press Bay Court, are unusual developments.

Completed in 2014, spaces at the micro-retail plaza on West Green Street range from a 160 SF barbershop to a 2,000 SF confectioner. Other tenants include a novelty store, a cafe, a circus school, an herb/spice shop, a high-tech workshop and electric bikes. Around Halloween, it becomes Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. It’s an eclectic development by any regard.

Micro-retail is a growing retail trend that offers a unique niche product or a very limited selection of convenience products and services. A shop like Amuse or a service like Ithaca Generator may not need a large space to achieve its business goals, and can save on rental expenses with a limited footprint, compensated by being in a high pedestrian-traffic areas, in this case a couple blocks from The Commons. Similar examples include Memphis’s Edge Alley and Denver’s Dairy Block.

Granted, Ithaca is smaller than Memphis or Denver, but the underlying dynamics of active-use blocks and high foot traffic are present nevertheless, and businessmen John Guttridge and David Kuckuk of Urban Core LLC identified a potential market for the concept in Ithaca. Seeing an opportunity in the former printing press and garages of the shrinking Ithaca Journal, Urban Core, who had recently bought the Journal Building, decided to move forward with a renovation and see if they could make the concept work locally. The risk seems to have paid off, as Press Bay Alley is fully occupied.

With that under their belt, and with renovations to 121 West State partially completed (waiting on fit-out for a potential restaurant tenant), Urban Core has committed to a second phase of the project at 108-114 West Green Street. Currently vacant, 108-110 West Green housed Hausner’s Garage and a Chevy car dealership in the 1920s (see photo below), a DeSoto-Plymouth dealer in the 1940s, Ithaca Photo from at least the 1950s through the late 2000s, and from 2012-2017, McNeil Music. In the rear where D.P. Dough is (114), The Haunt nightclub called it home from 1969-1997 before moving across town.

What Urban Core’s latest plans would do is expand that “experiential” micro-retail mix eastward towards the corner of Green and Cayuga Streets, the Commons and the downtown core. The parking lot in front of D. P. Dough would be converted into a plaza much like Press Bay Alley’s, and the first floor of 108-110 West Green would be renovated into 5-8 micro-retail units facing the new plaza (the Green Street entrances would be retained), with 320-2200 SF per unit. The second floor would be renovated into four below-market rate one-bedroom apartments with 510-660 SF of living space, and the exterior masonry would be cleaned and repaired. The hawk mural will be preserved. New signage, bike infrastructure, curbing, sidewalks and a parklet are included in the plans. The total square footage in phase two is about 9,000 SF.

One of the more unusual quirks of Press Bay Court is part of the plaza would be convertible into an amphitheater/stage space for outdoor performances. So if some comedy improv group or local dance troupe wants to perform for an audience of several dozen, that’s an option. The next day, it might revert back to an outdoor seating space with movable furniture and display space for retail tenants. That weekend, it might host hungry or browsing festival goers spilling out from Press Bay Alley, which will be connected through the Press Bay Building. The space will be adaptable and multi-use, which will hopefully provide exposure for tenants.

Later plans call for renovations to the 15,000 SF Ithaca Journal (Market Bay) Building for an indoor arcade and second-floor office tenants, and a 2,400 SF new restaurant tenant in 121 West State Street, in the basement below The Watershed coffee lounge and bar. Ultimately, the goal is to build a thriving, synergistic environment where the businesses create a natural flow of customers and clients between the various shops and services offered on the block, and the outdoor space’s active uses contribute to and help sustain small local enterprises.

The project cost is estimated at about $900,000, most of which went into property acquisition. Financing comes from a Tompkins Trust Company loan, cash/equity, and a $200,000 low-interest loan from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency. One of the tenant spaces is being offered in the Downtown Ithaca Alliance’s “Race for Space II” competition, with the specific unit to be selected by the winner.

At the moment, not much appears to be happening. The “cut-out” lines are a clever advertisement for the future micro-retail storefronts, while the parking lot is a pop-up park for the time being. According to Press Bay Alley’s Facebook page, “Urban Core popped up a temporary installation to experiment with several design elements and gather public feedback.” Previous plans called for a spring opening, but with the Restore NY Grant under consideration, the project may not start until the Spring, in which case this entry saves the trouble of writing one next March. However, the later start date might force changes to Race for Space II, which asked for the selected tenant to be ready to move in by spring 2018, the same time construction was pushed back to in order to be eligible for Restore NY funds.

 


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2 responses

26 10 2017
CornellPhD

I hope this catalyzes some development on the nearby parcels. I know the gas station has been unwilling to pack up, but that Geneva parking lot seems increasingly absurd sitting next to an increasingly vibrant part of town. And with a stage coming to the new courtyard (and the Commons stage complete), there’s less of an excuse the space is needed for festivals.

27 10 2017
B. C.

That would be great. Although I have not heard plans specifically for the lot, I can say that I am aware of at least one other Urban Core project planned nearby. That’s about all I can share for now.

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