Rendering of the project

ITHACA, N.Y. — While all the talk lately has been focused on State Street Triangle, another project — first approved two years ago and re-approved at a meeting last month — is likely to begin construction in a few months.

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The 11-story Harold’s Square mixed-use project on the Commons was first approved by the city in August 2013, with a CIITAP tax abatement package approved two months later. Harold’s Square would replace the existing structures at that housed Alphabet Soup, Race Office Supply (currently occupied by the Rev business incubator), and the old Harold’s Army and Navy store. The Sage Building (formerly occupied by Benchwarmers) would be renovated.

The project requested a renewal of the approval at last month’s planning board meeting, which was granted. A project has to begin construction within two years of planning board approval, otherwise it must re-apply to the board. Providing that nothing’s changed, it comes down to a simple vote, since the application and forms have been scrutinized, and mitigation measures already agreed to.

However, the 151,410 SF Harold’s Square project has been planning some changes. Lubin previously expressed intent to change over some of the planned office space to residential.

Rendering of the project

The recent New York Times piece on Ithaca provided the first specific numbers for the revised project plans. The Harold’s Square project calls for 86 apartments, up from 46 when it was first approved in 2013. The apartment units will be a mix of 1-bedroom and 2-bedrooms. Readers may recall that the project is dropping two floors of office space (floors 3 and 4) in favor of two more floors of apartments. One floor of office space (2nd floor, 14,000 SF) will remain, and floors 5-10 are still apartments. The top floor is common and conference space. The project also includes about 11,000 SF of retail on the Commons.

As shown in the rendering, the side closest to the Commons will be only four stories in height, reflecting the prevailing height of neighboring buildings. The side facing away from the Commons and towards the Green Street garage will be eleven floors and 140 feet tall, although the height could decrease with the revisions. Office space usually has higher floor-to-floor heights than residential space (14 feet vs. 10 feet per floor).

In a phone conversation with developer David Lubin, the current plan is to start construction of the $38 million project in early 2016: “Rev will be moving out at the end of September. We’ll probably begin demolition after the first of the year, after the holiday shopping season. We don’t want to be a nuisance to Christmas shoppers. We’ll have pop-up store space available during the holidays. They’re not solid, but those are our plans. We’ll see how it goes.”

Also, while the 2013 design was re-approved, the post-approval change of plans have not been reviewed. The project will be going back to the planning board later this year.

According to Lubin, “The planning board re-approved the current design [last month]. However, there will be changes to the design, as we’ve changed the office space to apartments and they have different needs, window placement, things like that. When we’re ready, we’ll present those to the planning board. Not September and probably not the October meeting, but before the end of the year.”

Lubin noted that even with approval from the planning board, that it’s by no means a quick and easy process to begin construction. Getting financing and construction loans prepared can drag out the timeline and delay a project.

“These things take time,” Lubin stressed. “The Marriott, that needed three of four years before they started [construction]. It can be a slow process.”

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Brian Crandall

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