Ithaca Really is 10 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality

14 07 2009

So, CNN released its annual “Best Places to Live” articles in its business section (Money Magazine, [1]). Normally, I don’t care much for the highly variable “Best Places” lists that appear in so many published reports, in many different variations, including best places for singles and best places for beer drinkers.

So, the decision making is one thing, and to each their own. But according to CNN Money, Ithaca apparently doesn’t exist. I first noticed this last year, but decided it was probably a glitch, and it would be recognized as the 30,000 person city that it is when they finally came around to updating their lists. But apparently, I was wrong.

Typing in Ithaca says the city doesn’t exist. Examining the list of New York State cities, the disappearance of Ithaca is quite conspicuous.


I mean, it would be nice if CNN actually acknowledged Ithaca’s existence. I’m not saying it’s deserving of any awards, but hell, if they’re going to throw in Inwood, an ambiguous town that’s effectively part of NYC, you would think that a regionally distinct city of 30,000 would at least get a footnote in their list of towns and cities.

But, CNN be damned. Some people do think it exists after all, and even deserving of some recognition:

News Tidbits 4/16/09: Little Ithaca Grows Up

17 04 2009

Looks like Ithaca’s downtown area is seeing some long awaited expansion.

Major downtown construction projects are slated to move forward this year, a sign of Ithaca’s relative resilience in troubled economic times, city officials say.

The Hotel Ithaca project at the eastern end of The Commons should break ground this fall, and construction is scheduled to start by summer on the Cayuga Green condominiums between the Cayuga garage and Six Mile Creek, Downtown Ithaca Alliance Executive Director Gary Ferguson said.

This summer should also see the completion and opening of the new Cinemapolis in the ground-floor of the Green Street garage and Urban Outfitters on the ground-floor of the Cayuga Green apartment complex.

Hotel and condos

The $30 million, 100-room Hotel Ithaca project this month received city approval for zoning variances, and Common Council approval to jut several feet over the top of the Green Street garage. It’s scheduled to come for site plan review to the Planning and Development Board April 28.

The $12 million, 7-story Cayuga Green luxury apartment/condo project is the last piece of the years-long Cayuga Green downtown development. It already has needed approvals.

Ferguson said when he talks with fellow economic development planners around the state, “they’re just green with envy.”

“One, we’ve been planning them for some time so it’s not like these are just popping out of the ground. But secondly, while the economy’s been rough, this still is a very strong economy relative to other parts of the state, other parts of the country,” he said. “I think this malaise, if you will, is worse in a lot of other places and actually makes Ithaca look even more attractive to people.”

Bankers still seem to have faith in Ithaca, said Phyllisa DeSarno, deputy director for economic development for the city. This is evidenced by the fact that Cayuga Green developer Ken Schon has retained his financial backing.

“We were all crossing our fingers . . . because so many developers are losing their funding and banks are not going with projects,” she said. “But he said it does not look like that’s going to be his issue. He is moving ahead.”

The Hotel Ithaca was proposed to go up to the limit of 85 feet allowed by zoning, but the project developer received approval to go up an additional 21 feet, in order to enclose the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Under the city’s zoning, that kind of equipment is never considered part of a building’s height.

“This was a very, very major coup, really,” DeSarno said. “We were so thrilled that this happened because it sets a bar now I think for other developers, other builders to do something about mechanicals, which are really such a blight. When you’re coming off any of the hills, coming down from Ithaca College or Cornell (University), it’s going to be so much more aesthetically nice to have that screening there.”

The rooftop enclosure will also include meeting and conference space “to offset the cost of the structure,” according to information provided to the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals.


Construction continues on the future homes of Cinemapolis and Urban Outfitters on either side of Green Street.

Cinemapolis is scheduled to open in late May, potentially in conjunction with Ithaca Festival, said Lynne Cohen, one of the executive directors of Seventh Art, which oversees Cinemapolis.

Construction is scheduled to be complete in about a week, then all that will be left is to paint and install seating, projection equipment and refreshment equipment, Cohen said.

“With a little imagination, you can see what the theater’s going to look like,” she said.

Compared to the existing Cinemapolis theaters in Center Ithaca and at Fall Creek Pictures, the new location will have “fewer seats but better allocated,” Cohen said.

Cinemapolis’ contract at Fall Creek Pictures runs through the end of this year, but Seventh Art has not yet decided whether they’ll continue showing films there once the new location opens, said Rich Szanyi, Cohen’s husband and another Seventh Art executive director.

Tsvi Bokaer, founder of Fall Creek Pictures, could not be reached for comment.

Urban Outfitters, which will occupy the eastern half of the ground floor under the Cayuga Green apartments, is on schedule to open July 2, project architect David Levy said by email.

“Now obviously Urban Outfitters will be a big draw and all of the neighbors around Urban Outfitters, including The Commons, will benefit from them being here,” DeSarno said.

Ithaca will be the second Upstate New York location for college-age focused Urban Outfitters. The other is in Buffalo.

Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit also plans to rent space on the ground floor of the apartments, and Schon is in discussion with two local small businesses about filling the remaining area, DeSarno said.

“Obviously there are cuts throughout our city and the county in our businesses and in our employers,” she said. “But we certainly, like Bob Sweet from National Development Council always says to me, ‘(Ithaca is) an oasis amongst a muck and mire.’ ”

The Hotel Ithaca was proposed to go up to the limit of 85 feet allowed by zoning, but the project developer received approval to go up an additional 21 feet, in order to enclose the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Under the city’s zoning, that kind of equipment is never considered part of a building’s height.

“This was a very, very major coup, really,” DeSarno said. “We were so thrilled that this happened because it sets a bar now I think for other developers, other builders to do something about mechanicals, which are really such a blight. When you’re coming off any of the hills, coming down from Ithaca College or Cornell (University), it’s going to be so much more aesthetically nice to have that screening there.”

The rooftop enclosure will also include meeting and conference space “to offset the cost of the structure,” according to information provided to the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals.


For the record:


Red box is part of the Hotel Ithaca site, green box is the Cayuga Green Condos site. Cayuga Green Apts, shown as under construction in this map, are where Cinemapolis and Urban Outfitters are going to be located. As Mr. Nagowski noted, Cinemapolis will be in the garage side of the construction area. Urban Outfitters is on the first floor of the apartment building.

Hotel Ithaca proposal:

Cayuga Condos

For reference, the height of Seneca Place is 121 feet, according to Emporis. The new apartment building on Green Street is 60 feet.

Everyone Loves Historical Throwbacks

2 10 2008

So, if you haven’t been living under a rock in the past year, there are plans for a 9-story, 102-room hotel just off the commons, to be designed by Scott Whitham of Thomas Group Architects in conjunction with Ithaca Properties LLC / Rimland Associates. Well, it looks like they have a hotel operator in Gemstone Hotels & Resorts, a boutique hotel operator based out of Utah [1]:

Hotel Ithaca

Hotel Ithaca, currently in final planning and approval, is expected to open in 2011. The property will be a nine-story, full-service boutique hotel at the intersection of State and Aurora Streets. The hotel will feature 125 luxury rooms and suites and 2,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. The hotel will be built on the same site as the original Hotel Ithaca. In addition, the hotel will be the home of the original Zinck’s Bar, a cherished icon of the city’s past.

“We welcome the opportunity to be involved with the first luxury boutique hotel in the Ithaca area,” said Thomas Prins. “Because the city is also home to the world renowned Cornell Hotel School, we are very excited to set a new standard in concept and operations and set an example for students and the many hotelier alumni who visit the school.”

I have no clue where they had the idea it was a 125-room hotel. Everything I’ve read has stated 102 rooms.

That being said, since the last Zinck’s closed over forty years ago, the only things most of us modern Cornellians know about it is from “Give My Regards to Davy” [/We’ll all have drinks at Theodore Zinck’s/]. Cornell’s alumni associations make use of the Zinck’s nostalgia in its alumni events:

“Theodore Zinck was a saloonkeeper in Ithaca, and his pub, the Hotel Brunswick, was a popular gathering place for Cornellians in the 1890s. After his death in 1903, several bars using his name continued to provide a haven for students. When the last Zinck’s closed in the mid-1960s, celebrating the spirit of Zinck’s became a favorite Thursday night Collegetown tradition for undergraduates. It wasn’t long afterward that Cornellians began to continue the tradition in their hometowns. This year, alumni will celebrate this uniquely Cornell event in more than 90 cities around the world. So wherever you are, remember your days at Cornell on October 16. [2]”

Currently, the University uses “the Spirit of Zinck’s night” as a way to promote alumni involvement (e.g. solicit donations). With the historical name being reused at a drinking establishment once again, it looks like they might be able to celebrate at Zinck’s a couple of years from now.



Let’s Go Downtown, Part II

14 09 2008

The Cornell Daily Sun Building on West State Street. Notably, the Daily Sun was not the first newspaper on campus, but rather took the title from the Cornell Era, which was founded shortly after the school opened, and then after twenty years or so began to take a different direction (literary journal) that would lead it into obscurity and termination. The Sun also holds the prestigious title of being the oldest continually-independent college daily in the U.S. [1]. I believe the printing press is on site, but if someone wants to provide a little more detail on that, please be my guest.

As for the building itself, it was built in 1916 and was the home of the Elks Lodge in Ithaca. The Daily Sun’s Alumni Association bought the structure in 2003 and completely renovated it over the next several months. The building also happens to be located next door to the Ithaca’s Journal’s offices (who don’t even print here—they print in Johnson City, near Binghamton [2]).

The Immaculate Conception Church is a Catholic Church in Ithaca that falls under the Archdiocese in Rochester. The building was constructed in 1898 and designed by architect A.B. Wood [3].

Across the street is St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Chruch. It was constructed in the 1900s.

Shortstop Deli is a popular sub/deli/convenience store near downtown Ithaca. The Deli was founded in 1978 by Albert Smith [4], although by my guess the buidling dates from the 1950s. Shortstop is also the company that owns The Hot Truck.

The Clinton House was built as an upscale office and hotel building in 1828-1829 [5]. Designed by Ira Tillotson, it is named for NY Governor DeWitt Clinton (DeWitt Park is up the street). The building has been renovated numerous times in its nearly 200-year history, which is clearly evident by the glass wall stairway addition in the rear of the structure and the colonial details that were added in a 1901 renovation of the building, after a fire destroyed the roof and upper floors. The building underwent renovations again in 1985-1987 and more recently in the mid 2000s, returning Clinton House to it’s “1852-1862 era appaearance”. The building is maintained by the NPO Historic Ithaca, but the last I heard they were seeking to sell it to a willing buyer.

Admit it, you’ve thought about going here if you haven’t already.

The Tompkins County Public Library (TCPL) on Green Street. The building was originally a Woolworth’s department store until it closed in 1998, and it was renovated into the library space in 2000. Prior to that time, the library was located about five block farther north in a ca. 1968 building. The first library was a gift from Ezra Cornell to the city, but later went into private use, and it was torn down in 1960 [6].

So I had a special request for this photo. The State Street Theater was originally built as the Ithaca Security Garage Auto Company and Dealership, built in 1915. The building was renovated into a theatre by the Berinstein family and opened as a theatre on December 6, 1928. Due to changing times, the theatre struggled to remain open past the mid-century and closed by the 1980s. Slated for demolition in the mid 1990s due to a number of structural and health concerns, a grassroots effort to resotre the theatre took hold, and enough funds and renovated were completed in the late 1990s that it was reopened on December 5, 2001 [7]. Today, the theatre continues a slow but steady renovation, and hosts a number of live acts from music groups to comedians.

Yes, Ithaca has a Holiday Inn too. The low-rise portion of the building was built in 1972 as a Ramada Inn. The tower was built in 1984/85.

As I mentioned previously, the City Hall and Town Hall are two different structures for two different entities. City Hall dates from the 1930s. The original city hall, if you’re lucky enough to find an old photo of it, had the appearance of a country church.








Going Downtown

3 09 2008

Information that might be worth knowing about Downtown Ithaca, so you can impress your friends by making it sound like you actually leave Cornell and Collegetown.

Built in 1914, the quirky DeWitt Mall (named for Dewitt Clinton) formerly served as the city’s high school before the new facility on Lake Street was built in 1960-61. Apart from having a bunch or quirky shops and stores, the building’s sub-street storefront is home to Moosewood Restaurant (est. 1973 [1]) of vegetarian dining fame.

Seneca Place on the Commons is one of the largest buildings by gross area in downtown Ithaca. The 121-ft. tall, $32 million building was completed in 2005 by Criminelli Development [1]. It houses 100,000 sq. ft. of offices (Cornell is the primary tenant at about 70,000 sq. ft.) and a 104-room Hilton Garden Inn [2]. Starbucks and Kilpatrick’s faux-Irish pub make up the ground floor retail. The site was previous home to a parking area and two low-rise buildings.

The beige box on the left is the Community Bank Building, which was built about 1981. The previous structure on the site, a four-story YMCA building, burnt down in a reported arson in 1978. The building on the right is the older portion of the Ithaca Town Hall (not that it’s not Ithaca City Hall, which is another building), which dates from 1858[3]. Prior to renovation in 2000, it was the (vastly underused) main Post Office in Ithaca.

The M&T Bank Building, formally known as Tioga Place, was originally built in 1924 [4]. The awkward addition, like a piece of food stuck between someone’s two front teeth, was built on a half century later.

Center Ithaca, on the Commons. The building was built in 1981. It was an early attempt at a mixed-use structure designed to take advantage of the Commons and to make the area more lively. Well, didn’t really work out as planned. Rothschild’s, a department store that was the ground-floor anchor, closed early on. The 62 apartments were difficult to rent out at a time when downtowns were still considered dangerous places to be. And it ran over-budget, pushing its developer and the cash-strapped city into financial hell. Today, the building has worked out most of its kinks, but it didn’t fulfill its original goal, so it worked with mixed results.

Token Commons shot. Completed in 1974 on what was a part of State Street, the Commons was the brainchild on Thys Van Cort, the recently-selected city planner. Pedestrian malls were all the rage in the 1970s; most closed down within a few years. Ithaca’s has persisted, much to the delight (or loathing) of locals. Talk around, and you’ll find some adore the Commons, and some want it turned into a street with parking on the sides. Whichever you prefer, it’s there for the time being. The tracks in the foreground mark where the streetcars used to turn in the downtown area before they closed in 1935/36.

The foreground building that houses Viva Taqueria is the Wanzer Block, which dates from 1905. The building that hugs it in an L-shape is the Roy H. Park building, which was built in the 1990s. Roy H. Park was an Ithaca-residing executive for Proctor & Gamble who was also a substantial donor and investor in Ithaca College and  the surrounding area.

For now, it’s a parking lot. By 2010, as long as things stay on schedule, this will be the site of a 9-story, $17 million,  102-room Radisson hotel by Rimland Associates (rumors have it to be a Radisson, but it will be a recognized chain that occupies the new building) [6].

The center building is the Tompkins County Health Services Building, constructed in 1990 [7]. On the right is the nearly-finished Cayuga Green Apartments, a 59-unit building that will house Cinemapolis on the streetfront. The Parking garage on the left (built in 2005), will see the addition of a seven-story, 30-unit condo tower (Cayuga Green Condos) on the backside (the side facing this photo).

I know, bad photo, but it’s visible most everywhere else in Ithaca City. Limestone Tower, built in 1932, is slated for an apartment conversion and renovation by the Ithaca Rental Company and its head, Jason Fane. The building  was originally built for the G.L.F. Exchange Farmers’ Association.

Just outside of downtown is the William Henry Miller Inn. William Henry Miller, of course, was one of the first Cornell architect graduates, and also designed Uris Libe and Boardman Hall. He designed this house and its carriage house, which were built in 1880 and 1892 respectively [8].