ITHACA, N.Y. — The Hotel Ithaca is once again seeking to expand its offerings in what’s being billed as a 5-story wing “modernization.”

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Owner David Hart of Buffalo-based Hart Hotels is proposing a $9.5 million project that includes a new 5-story addition to the hotel, located at 222 S. Cayuga Street in downtown Ithaca. The 2-story north and west wings of the Hotel Ithaca would be demolished.

Site Plan Review documents filed with the city (link here) call for a November 2015 construction start, with the new wing opening in April 2017. NH Architecture of Rochester will be designing the new hotel wing (additional drawings of the new wings can be found here).

The construction would be the first phase of a multi-year project. Once the new wing is opened, the south wing of the hotel would be decommissioned and eventually demolished. Sketch plans presented at a Planning Board meeting earlier this summer indicated a second, later phase that adds three more floors on the hotel wing (bringing the new wing to eight stories), with a two-story convention center sitting on the corner of South Cayuga and West Clinton Streets.

Because of the demolitions and decommission of the south wing in favor of later construction plans, the net increase of hotel rooms is actually a decrease – from 180 down to 170 rooms.

Like several other Hart Hotels properties throughout the Northeast, the hotel has no chain affiliation, although the property was a Holiday Inn until the end of 2013. The 180-room hotel initially opened as a Ramada Inn in 1972, and the 10-story “Executive Tower” was completed in 1984.

Zoning at the site is CBD-100 (Central Business District), meaning that a proposed structure can be up to 100 feet (two floors at the least) with minimal required setbacks and no required on-site parking.

Under plans previously presented three years ago, the Hotel Ithaca sought to demolish the two-story wings of the hotel, and in their place the hotel would build a new 9-story, 115-room tower, a kitchen addition, and a 15,000 SF conference center.

The then-$18 million project had significant local support from business owners, because Ithaca lacks the ability to host mid-size conferences and conventions (midsize meaning about 500 attendees), which sends conventioneers elsewhere. Currently, the lack of meeting space limits conferences to about 250 guests. The addition of a convention facility is seen as a major benefit to downtown retail, as well as other hotels that would handle overflow guest traffic. Convention traffic typically happens during weekdays, when regular tourist traffic is lowest.

However, the project, which was initially slated to start in November 2012, has failed to obtain financing for construction. The project applied for and received a property tax abatement for the new construction, and the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) even offered the possibility of a $250,000 loan if it would create a financial package that would allow the convention center to be built. But until this summer, there had been no indication of any plans moving forward.

Due to the modifications of the original plan, the county IDA will need to re-approve the tax abatement incentive package previously offered to the hotel.

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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.