Editor’s Note: This is an opinion column written by the Ithaca Voice’s Brian Crandall.

As always, we are eager to reprint alternative or dissenting viewpoints. To submit guest columns, contact me anytime at jstein@ithacavoice.com.

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INHS
Become an educated home buyer

ITHACA, N.Y. — I can understand the initial shock and recoil to the latest State Street building proposal; there’s this perception that Ithaca is a small town, and this doesn’t jibe with that.

By Ithaca standards it is massive: 11 stories with 289,000 sq ft of space and 620 bedrooms. If this was, say, a four-story building with an 11-story tower on the closest third to the Commons, the reaction would probably be less vitriolic (people would still hate it, but let’s entertain this thought exercise).


But that probably won’t happen. Not with this developer, or with any developer that purchases the Trebloc site.

Here’s my theory why, and it goes a little more in-depth than “they want maximum profit:”

In December, Jason Fane’s 130 East Clinton project was rejected for tax abatements, and one of the reasons cited was that market-rate housing wasn’t enough of a community benefit. State Street Triangle is mostly apartments – it contains only a modest amount of retail space, with less than 13,000 sq ft it’s not even 5% of its usable space. If it were to apply for an abatement, it would likely be rejected for the same reason.

Arguably, they could try commercial office or even industrial “maker spaces”. But the market demand for office space doesn’t seem to be growing much, and industrial uses don’t tend to be a good fit in heavily populated areas. A developer could even try condos, but if developers knowledgeable with the area are hesitating, then a bank won’t hesitate to hold off on financing (aside on that – if the Old Library goes condo, other developers and financiers will view it as an experiment, or more positively, a pioneer; until it’s clear that the project is successful, don’t expect more condos in Ithaca).

However, nothing changes the fact that building downtown is quite expensive. So, being a for-profit company, if you want to build in an expensive area, you have two options to ensure return on your $40 million investment and get the construction loans you need – build as much as possible, and/or make your units as expensive as possible. If you’re a company that specializes in student housing, you’re not going to push the latter because there’s a lower ceiling on what students can afford. That would be my guess on how State Street Triangle came to be.

There are a few possibilities that might make the project more palatable to community members, such as free bus passes for tenants or a 10% affordable housing requirement within the tower (if the INHS project oppositions are any clue, this is going to be the only way to go from here on), but given the costs, those ideas just might kill the project completely.

Which is exactly what some folks are looking for.

At the very least, let’s let the Planning Board do their work. If they can help change this:

To this:

Let’s see what they and the developer can negotiate here.

Brian Crandall

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