ITHACA, N.Y. — A group of about 40 Ithaca residents had a series of questions for Texas-based developers proposing an 11-story building a block away from the Commons.

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They largely expressed their skepticism with the plan.

Former Mayor Carolyn Peterson was among them. “I wouldn’t have approved that zoning change,” Peterson said, in reference to the recent revision to city law that makes it legal to put a building of that height in the city.

Peterson appeared at City Hall Tuesday night to hear from Campus Advantage, the developer, and local architects about their plans for the $40 million project at 301 East State Street. (Reporting about their presentation can be found toward the bottom of this story from an initial post; the project is geared primarily, but not exclusively, to students and young professionals.)

“My main issue is the programmatic use of the building — and how potentially 600 to 620 folks are suddenly in a neighborhood, an existing neighborhood,” Peterson said. “What is the effect?”

Scott Whitham, a local architect involved in the project, at City Hall Tuesday night
Design rendering of the project presented Tuesday night.

At City Hall, a few speakers got into an at-times heated back-and-forth with the developers, with occasional boo or sarcastic laugh from the crowd.

One idea that was criticized was that the project should be eligible for a tax abatement, for which it currently qualifies, according to city officials. Michael Peter, CEO of Campus Advantage, told the crowd that the project would not happen without the tax abatement.

Many of the residents did not thrill to that idea.

“Why is it that your company needs this subsidy from the people of the City of Ithaca?,” said Michael Hayes, who identified himself as a local resident and emphasized that Campus Advantage is from outside of Central New York.

“You’re in private enterprise: Why can’t you just take the risk yourself rather than asking us to subsidize the risk?”

Many others, including Peterson, pointed out the impact of the project on traffic and parking.
The developers said that the project is in line with a model for urban growth that decreases dependency on vehicular traffic. One of the developers cited a study from Cornell that he said showed only 23 percent of Cornell students use their cars.
Peterson, however, questioned that number, wondering if it was an accurate portrayal of off-campus living and the broader Cornell community.

Meanwhile, Ithaca resident Ann Sullivan criticized the extent of the city’s building boom, and spoke about the importance of “taking a deep breath and thinking about what you have opened the door to in downtown: Massive buildings, no parking.”

She said she had respect for local architect Noah Demarest and STREAM Collaborative, which recently released new design renderings in connection with the Trebloc project.

“You can put a lot more lipstick on that Trebloc building: It’s still a pig,” she said.

Earlier — 

Developers try selling crowd on 11-story Ithaca building, tax breaks

Scott Whitham began with a look back at Ithaca history.

The local architect spoke of the Trebloc site in Ithaca, a block away from the Commons, as a wasted opportunity — one that was historically part of the fabric of the city’s downtown life, but isn’t currently because of the corrosive influence of suburban sprawl.

“Right now, it’s just surface parking; it has no urban life, no vitality,” Whitham said of the plan for 301 East State Street.

Then Whitham turned to the subject that had gotten about 40 city residents to City Hall Tuesday evening: An 11-story, $40 million building proposal for the Trebloc site, planned by the Texas-based developer Campus Advantage. Officials are set to talk about the very beginning of the review process for the Campus Advantage building project.

Here are some renderings of the project:

Whitham, a well-known Ithaca planner working on the Campus Advantage project, suggested that the project would take an unused site and use it to extend the vibrancy of downtown Ithaca.

“This would create, potentially, the same feeling of Aurora Street as it wraps around,” Whitham said.

Whitham appeared at the front of the City Hall meeting with John Kelly, project architect; Michael Peter, CEO of Campus Advantage; and architects from STREAM Collaborative, a local firm working on the project.

Also speaking at the meeting was Michael Stamm, executive director of Tompkins County Area Development, who spoke about local officials’ tax break program and how it has encouraged development in downtown Ithaca; as well JoAnn Cornish, a city official.

Cornish said the building met the requirements for the city’s tax abatement program.

Whitham, the local architect working on the project, responded to what he said were the three principal objections he’s heard in regard to the project:

1 — That it isn’t energy efficient. Whitham said that, in fact, the developers would be aiming for LEED Certification on the building.

2 — That it won’t provide living-wage jobs. Everyone working on site will be paid a living wage, Whitham said.

3 — That local labor wouldn’t be employed. Whitham said that the developer were “taking that issue seriously as well.”

Another official said that with a 10-year abatement, if the project gets built, city revenue would have a cumulative benefit of $7.4 million over 10 years.

“Our taxes would be $2 million or more per year on a going forward basis,” one member of the Campus Advantage team said. “It’s a significant impact on the local community.”

Click on the Ithaca Voice Story Database to learn more. Stories on this topic are filed under “Trebloc Site Builds 11-story Building Proposal.”

Check back for updates of the meeting, which is ongoing, later in the evening.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.