Correction: Though it’s unclear from the report, the section involving “Cha Ching” was in fact written by the local visitors’ bureau, not — as originally stated — the city government.

This column was written by Brian Crandall, who runs “Ithacating in Cornell Heights.”


You need Flash player 8+ and JavaScript enabled to view this video.


1 — Report on hotel boom: ‘Cha Ching!’

Tompkins County and the city are making a killing on the high demand for hotel rooms, and 2015 is expected to be a banner year thanks to Cornell’s sesquicentennial and other big events.

Literally, the Ithaca Planning & Economic Development Committee’s report has “Cha Ching!” written on page 23. That wording comes from the local visitors’ bureau.

A government report appears very excited about the hotel boom.

According to the paperwork presented at the October Planning and Economic Development meeting, the city can comfortably accommodate either the Marriott, Canopy or Holiday Inn Express on 13 without a problem (no mention of the smaller hotel approved for 13, although at 37 rooms it would be a blip in the market); the city/county can accommodate two of the three with only a minor hiccup. But if all three are built in the next couple years without a new driving force to bring in visitors, an older hotel further out in the county will likely close.

Fingers crossed in the hope the Hotel Ithaca convention center gets the construction loans it needs, for that will be a boon to the hospitality market.

2 — The affordability issue

I see the Journal and Common Council have touched on what is probably one of the biggest questions when it comes to housing in Ithaca – the affordability issue. As noted over at Ithaca Builds, it’s a complicated problem, and there is no silver bullet. We have a confluence of problems, many of them fortuitous – a growing economy and a desirable place to live, even if it has a dearth of developable land. On the other hand, wages aren’t going up as fast; so the problem gets worse. From 2000 to 2013, average income increased 61%, but home values over the same time increased about 105%.

I become very negative and cynical when I think about this issue. It gets lip service, but no one really wants to do anything about it. Development costs are expensive in Ithaca, so no developer wants to do it on their own dime. There’s also a mentality among some residents that affordable housing equates to ghettos and crime. West Hill is opposed to more affordable housing on their hill, South Hill would be very difficult due to simmering tension left from the Stone Quarry battle, Downtown’s too expensive without tax breaks, and Cornell students price out East Hill. There’s not much space that’s developable in the inner neighborhoods, only rare opportunities like the Neighborhood Pride site. Anything built outside the city is sprawl. I don’t see a solution to this problem. I only see it getting worse.

As for the hotel, the type of business it brings helps define the services offered by nearby retail. They probably won’t visit second-hand clothing stores, laundromats, or the local bank. But they will restaurants and bookstores and novelty shops. The shops will continue to evolve as they’ve always done – for better or worse, depending on who you ask.

3 — Amabel project at 617 Five Mile Drive

Looks like the land sale for the Amabel project is in the works after falling a little behind schedule. 617 Five Mile Drive is tentatively selling for the minimum price (the tax assessed value of $16,875), after New Earth Living’s initial bid for $10,000 was rejected. City gets money, land gets sold off, added to tax rolls, and down the line it gets used for housing. Win-win. I win as well, for a correct if easy prediction.

4 — Jason Fane, REV abatements?

The county’s IDA is reviewing tax abatements for Jason Fane’s 36-unit 130 East Clinton project, and the 20-unit mixed-use Carey Building addition for Travis Hyde Companies. The document for the Carey Building reveals a construction time from of December 2014 to August 2015 for the $4.1 million project.

The number of REV incubator tenants is now up to 9. The reason for the abatement is to take the reduced costs from an abatement and move the new units from the upper-end of the rental market to the middle. They do a pretty effective job selling it, saying that it will help ameliorate the dearth of affordable rental housing if approved. No new jobs anticipated, but then, this doesn’t count any companies in the incubator. The requested property tax abatement plan, and with sales/mortgage abatements, is valued at $850k over 10 years.

Looking at Fane’s project, the document notes a start and finish date in “2015, hopefully 2015 but most likely completed 2016“. That does not instill confidence. The construction cost is $4.4 million. The property tax abatement isn’t explicitly stated in the document, referring to a spreadsheet that wasn’t included in the upload. However, it says it’s following a standard 7 or 10-year plan, so it’s in the ballpark of several hundred thousand dollars. The sales and mortgage tax abatement is $200k.

5 — Maguire car dealerships

Here’s a site plan render of those “artisanal” car dealerships proposed by the Maguires. Both budget motels are torn down, but the pond will still be there. Apparently, campus-like car dealership clusters look a lot like corporate office parks.

The new Saponi Meadows Park lies to the north of the line of trees, on the property adjacent to homes on Peachtree Lane. Saponi Meadows would be connected via the “Coregonel Remeberance Trail” to Tutelo Park in the upper right. The dealerships would be Subaru, Hyundai, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Nissan and the corporate office for the Maguires. The developers predict 40-50 new jobs if built out. Local firm Schickel Architecture is responsible for the site plan.

6 — Troy Road development

It’s back. For the town of Ithaca planning board meeting next week, round two for the Troy Road housing development is about to begin. Some readers might recall this past winter, when it began as a 216-unit proposal.

By August, it had entered red-tape hell, because neighbors were opposed to the Planned Development Zone (PDZ) it needed.  Details on the newest incarnation are on the town website here.

Now that the project is reduced to 130 units, a PDZ is no longer needed. The project will be comprised of 46 2-4 bedroom single-family homes, and 14 sets of 4-unit 1-2 bedroom townhomes (56 units total) and 14 duplexes (2 units each, 28 total). Compared to the previous design,  this one is less sprawling, has an orchard and farm on-site, and looks to be eschewing the “rural agricultural”-style housing for modern units designed to exceed NYS Energy Code. With fewer units and no need for a PDZ, the project has a much better chance of approval.


Follow The Ithaca Voice on Facebook | Twitter

Brian Crandall

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