One of the six proposals for new developments at the Old Library in Ithaca. (Courtesy Brian Crandall)

This post was written by Brian Crandall, who writes the blog “Ithacating.”

Ithaca, N.Y. — From 1967-2000, the Tompkins County library operated out of a space at 310-314 N. Cayuga Street. But after the old Woolworth’s on Green Street was renovated for the current library space in 2000, the old building was used for paper records storage and the Community Justice Center (the CJC handles the county day reporting program, felony drug court, and family treatment court). That’s coming to an end.

Approaching nearly 50 years in age, the building’s roof and HVAC (heating/ventilation/air conditioning) systems are also near the end of their operating lives, and those are not cheap to replace. So the county is trying to make better use of the space.

In 5 questions and 5 answers, here’s everything you need to know about what’s going on with the Old Library space. Click on the question to find your answer.

1 – How frequently is the Old Library used? Why is it being closed?
2 – How is the county looking for replacements for the space?
3 – Where can I see the different proposals for the space? What are they?
4 – How much is it going to cost me? Or will taxpayers in fact benefit?
5 – Can I expect this to screw up traffic on Cayuga or Court Street?

(Did we miss your question? If so, email me at jstein@ithacavoice.com.)

1 – How frequently is the Old Library used? Why is it being closed?

At this time, not much. The records were digitized (with the historical documents moved to a secure facility at the old Seneca Army Depot), and the functions of the Community Justice Center are being moved to the Main Courthouse and Human Services buildings. That means the old library will be totally empty by next year, with no re-use of the building planned.
Given that Tompkins County has no plans for the building, and that having the aging structure be empty would be a burden on county coffers, county officials have decided to sell the property to a developer.


Back to the questions

2 – How is the county looking for replacements for the space?

A formal Request For Expressions of Interest (RFEI) was issued in December 2013, and can be found here. The county requested residential proposals, with a preference for affordable senior housing. Responses were due the following March, and six separate proposals are being considered for further review.
Back to the questions

3 – Where can I see the different proposals for the space? What are they?

The formal announcement of the six entries was made in late April, with all the proposals available for review at the county website on this page. Some are more detailed than others, but no one’s playing around — 0.8 acres of land near Ithaca’s downtown is a tempting prospect.

As proposals go, they run a wide spectrum. Of the six, three are for-profit, three are non-profit; all have significant operations in upstate New York. They range from 32 to 90 units of housing, and some are mixed-use. Only one proposal reuses the old library; the rest would raze the structure and build fresh.
They are, according to The Ithaca Times:
1 – A mix of residential units and commercial spaces. (Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services)
2 – Housing targeting those aged 50 to 70, with a fitness center and library and other spaces. (Integrated Acquisition and Development.)
3 – A new mixed-use building with senior housing on upper floors and about 44 new apartments. (Travis/Hyde Properties and Holt Architects.)
4 – Home units and apartments for residents with mid-range or high incomes. (DPI Consultants)
5 – Senior housing built with “stone accents and peak roofs.” (The Cornerstorne Group)
6 – A community center and senior housing project. (A Consortium for Renovation.)

Back to the questions

4 – How much is it going to cost me? Or will taxpayers in fact benefit?

It’s hard to quantify how much it’ll cost you, but it will definitely cost you something. The county needs to take the time to review proposals, weigh their pros and cons, invite the preferred candidates to submit more detailed proposals, and then once they pore over those, the county will finally vote for its top candidate. That’s going to take time, manpower, and by extension, money.

But whatever money is spent on the review process will pale in comparison to the benefits — initial revenue of $1.5 million from the sale of the parcel, with the long-term benefit of newly-taxable property, which could translate to over a million dollars in tax revenue annually. In short, you’re paying a small up-front amount, but there will be a substantial return on that investment (and given the interest expressed, one could say it’s a fairly safe investment).

Back to the questions

5 – Can I expect this to screw up traffic on Cayuga or Court Street?

No more than your standard mid-sized construction project, which we’ve seen plenty of in Ithaca over the past few years

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.