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

Why I shop downtown — Marty

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Ithaca, N.Y. — The Collegetown rental market is rapidly evolving, with several new buildings approved or proposed in the past several months. These will add hundreds of bedrooms to the neighborhood, new rooms with the latest in amenities, new appliances and fresh paint and all the other details that will allow their owners to ask for a premium on rents. Landlords of older properties might worry that these new buildings will hurt their ability to ask for high rents. Others see the newcomers as a challenge.

Until 2013, 205 College Avenue was just like many of the other houses in Collegetown: an older home with additions built on over the years to accommodate more students. It was a fairly unobtrusive house with white siding, the kind of home you’d gloss over with your eyes and instantly forget about as you kept going down the road.

Before:

After:

In fall 2012, William Lower sold the house to his son Josh. The two of them run one of Collegetown’s medium-sized rental companies, Urban Ithaca, formerly C Town Rentals. The firm maintains about 80 apartments and 300 bedrooms, not counting the recently-approved 307 College AvenueAccording to the Sun, the family has been in the Collegetown rental business since at least 1973, and has assets currently valued at over $9 million. After the sale was completed and winter ran its course, the Lowers decided to do some work on the house.

First up was a paint job. Three vibrant colors were selected, a brick red, a sky blue, and a mustard yellow. In a city of pastels and earth tones, any one of them would stand out on its own, let alone together. The house stopped being so invisible. The first time I laid eyes on the new paint job, I had to double-check the county records and make sure the building has been standing there previously. If the mission was to bring attention to the house, then consider it accomplished.

Over the past year, the owners have taken it a step further and decided to build some additions onto the house.

A white cupola, an extension of the third floor, a couple more floors on the north flank of the house, a pergola on the roof. I wonder if the cupola/crown is for show, or if one can actually enter it from the inside. The house continues to grab attention, and some strong opinions. I don’t believe the additions required any formal review by the city, just routine approvals by planning department staff. They don’t exceed zoning, otherwise the project would have gone up to the Board of Zoning Appeals. Given the provocative paint and additions, it would have made for a very spirited meeting.

At this point, I wonder what else is planned. The house has gone from being a quiet member of the streetscape to a brazen actor on Collegetown’s stage. For better or worse, it’s quite the attention-getter. The new apartment buildings will redefine Collegetown’s skyline, but this building will certainly make its presence known at street level.


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Brian Crandall

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