The Government Campus

3 09 2016

5-1-2012 120

The idea of a government campus in Ithaca is very intriguing. It offers big opportunities, and potential pitfalls.

A copy of the funding request can be found here. The $150,000 study comprises two components – the first would combine the Collegetown Fire Station (No. 9), Central Fire Station at 310 W. Green Street, the Police Headquarters on E. Clinton and City Hall into one site on the property of the Central Fire Station. The second combines DPW Streets and Facilities and DPW Water and Sewer into one location.

Given the very profound impact this would have on the city, there’s been relatively little news about it. I cued my colleague Mike Smith in to it, and he did an interview with Planning Director JoAnn Cornish, which led to two articles. The spark notes are that the current condition of some of these properties is poor, so the city is looking at which to consolidate and/or build new, and which to renovate. The money is left over from the study looking into moving Station No. 9 and designing a replacement (apparently, it only cost $80,000 of the $500,000 allotted), so this is the planning department’s shout of carpe diem. The Common Council has given strong support to doing the consolidation study.

Let’s make it clear – there is no commitment anything will happen. Nothing may change at all, Station No. 9 may still move to Maple Avenue while everything else is left as is, or the consolidation plan might actually get carried out. But if they have the money and time, it’s worth exploring the possibilities.


Study one, the “government campus”, involves a space needs assessment for programming and staff, concept site plans, and cost estimates for new facilities. The study will also offer appraisals for existing buildings and discussion of selling these properties:

  • City Hall and the adjacent parking lot to its east
  • The Collegetown Fire Station
  • The Police HQ, but not the Courts Building
  • The Western 1/3rd of the Green Street Garage

Each has its opportunities. The western third of the Green Street Garage has some of Ithaca’s most accommodating zoning for urban projects – CBD-140, a 140-foot building with no parking requirement. When the garage was rebuilt several years ago, only the central section was structurally redone. The western section is nearing 50 years old, so without major renovation, it will be nearing the end of its safe useful life. The early plans for Cayuga Green called for a larger garage on Green Street, so another floor or two on the remaining two thirds is not impossible.

Meanwhile, Ithaca has never been particularly attached to its city hall – the building was built for NYSEG in 1939, and the city bought the building in 1964, demolishing its old city hall for the Seneca Street Garage not long after. In the mid 1980s, the city attempted to sell city hall so that it could be bought by a private owner and leased out to the county, all part of an effort to keep the Department of Social Services downtown – the city failed to persuade the county legislature, which moved DSS out to West Hill until the Human Services Building opened on the 300 block of West State in 1998. Demolition would face significant opposition, but conversion to housing could be a safe option for a hypothetical new owner.

The Collegetown Fire Station is prime real estate. It’s MU-2 zoning (six floors, no parking) in the heart of Collegetown at 309 College Avenue. Given that 201 College sold for $2.65 million, and 215 College sold for $5.3 million, there’s little doubt the city could fetch a multi-million price here. An RFP would have to be cognizant of the fact that the site itself is best-suited to student housing, because not only would its price be limited by other means, non-students may not be comfortable living in a location that’s 95+% students. There could be a provision for housing fund payments or off-site affordable housing at an appropriate location.

The city police station is a question mark. The zoning for the Police HQ and Courts building is B-1a, and the police parking lot is R-3b. R-3b is 4 floors, 40% lot coverage, a parking space for every unit or three bedrooms, whichever is greater. B-1a is nearly the same, but with 50% lot coverage, but the Courts Building could make selling a tough prospect.

Now comes the question of the Central Fire Station redevelopment, which occupies much of its site on West Green. A back-of-the-envelope for the police HQ, fire station No. 9 and City Hall is about 48,000 SF (assuming police uses make up half of the courts complex). The Central Fire Station occupies 17,000 SF. So you’re asking for a sizable multi-story building on top of what’s there, and not counting impacts like parking. The city would need to be careful, as South Side is one of the more affordable areas and the risk for displacement of low-income households is considerable. Any project would also have to go through ILPC consideration since it borders historic properties.


Study #2, the DPW consolidation, also offers opportunities. The study calls for a consolidation at a new location in Southwest Ithaca down by the box stores. It involves a space needs assessment for programming and staff, concept site plans, and cost estimates for new facilities. The city says it may also consider a shared facility with the town of Ithaca, or the county. In such a move, the city frees up space that it could sell on the North Side, and opportunities that could enhance redevelopment efforts on the Waterfront. The Northside area is also one of the new parts of the city where affordable housing is feasible and accommodated by neighbors, so mixed-uses with market-rate and affordable housing is plausible. The Pier Road area has high water tables which could drive up foundation (construction) costs, but Form Ithaca highlighted redevelopment potential at the site during their charettes.

Anyway, this is a lot of handwaving. Any work would be far, far off, probably well into the 2020s. A lot can happen between now and then – the economy tanks, priorities change, the sale of any property ends up a big debacle like the county’s Old Library redevelopment. It could make the city a lot of money in sale and taxes and help continue the downtown renaissance, or if done wrong it could end up being a burden that hurts taxpayers as well as lower-income households. But it’s certainly an interesting topic to explore.


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.

News Bits, 7/18/08

19 07 2008

Watch the hippies flip when they find out Walmart is proposing an expansion. It’s not like someone didn’t try to bomb it or anything. Oh wait:

(May 2005) Ithaca, NY: Federal officials say the package found last month behind the Wal-Mart in Ithaca was an improvised explosive device. It had a battery on the bottom and a kitchen timer on top. The Wal-Mart and surrounding businesses were evacuated and a bomb dog called in. Authorities destroyed the package by shooting it with a shotgun. It broke apart, but did not explode. Nine officers came in contact with a liquid from the package that forced them to be quarantine for a short time [1].

Also notable is the expansion of the Cayuga Place Condos (a reduction of units from 45 to 30, but an increase from six to seven floors).

And, from an article in the ithaca times about the Collegetown Vision statement:

…That’s everything,” said Mallis. “How the whole area is to be treated both in terms of new developing and preserving the existing character of the place. As you see in reading the vision statement, this is very important to a lot of people to preserve Collegetown, but at the same time to create opportunities for undergrad student housing in ways that do not continue to invade communities like Bell Sherman that have single family homeowners living in it. That will mean increasing densities along College Avenue, but also increasing densities in a way that are not at all like Dryden Road in the mid-80s where you had six story apartment blocks that were put up and didn’t do a lot for the quality of the place.”…

“…The goal for Collegetown is to have all buildings be mixed use, meaning that retail will be on the ground floor with a visibility from the street of 75% to avoid teeny tiny windows. If all goes well, once a developer is named who has a similar vision, there could be a retail store on the ground floor of an apartment building or office space. ” [2]

Well, the article is a little off on its years. Let’s go through a list and some dates of construction for the major apartment blocks of C’Town.

-Collegetown Plaza (the flatiron) was built in 1989.

-312 College Avenue was built in 1999 (and inspired the 2000 moratorium).

-Collegetown Court was built in 1980.

-The Ciaschi Block (where Stella’s is) was built in 1988. Collegetown Center was built in 1997.

-Sheldon and Casca were extensively renovated in the 1980s (1983-84). Sheldon gained one floor, Casca two.

-307 Eddy, The Fontana Building (Dunbar’s), 217 Linden, 301 Eddy, and 305 Eddy  are 4-5 stories, and were built in the late 1980s onward, 301 being the last in 2002.

-The building where Student Agencies is was built in 2000 to replace a four-story building that burnt down in 1998 [3]. The former building, the Rulloff’s Building and the CTB building (415 College) date from the 1800s (renovated at various points).

-More recently, the Starbuck’s building (404 College) was completed in 2005/06. And at 320 Dryden are the new Top-of-the-Hill Apartments, which are 4 1/2 stories.

The only building that falls into their categorization is the Eddygate Park Apartments building at 110 Dryden. The curved building was built in 1986.

(Collegetown in Sept. 1985 – courtesy of “Upsilon Andromedae” on flickr.)

So yeah…I’m really curious to see where they pulled that statistic from. and I’m looking forward to the final presentation by Goody Clancy.