Editor’s Note: The following is a guest editorial written by Ithaca Voice Contributor Brian Crandall.
ITHACA, NY – The town of Ithaca will have an interesting development discussion next week. The South Hill Business Campus (SHBC) at 950 Danby Road is looking to “broaden and clarify” the legal uses in its Planned Development PDZ, which was established in 2005.
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The PDZ establishes strict guidelines on site uses, but gives the SHBC greater autonomy from the zoning code, useful when you have a variety of commercial and industrial tenants. Along with adding the capacity for greenhouses and outdoor event gatherings, there are some minor occupational clarifications, like adding wellness centers to the definition of medical facilities. But most importantly, the owners want to legalize residential uses in the PDZ.
To provide a quick background on SHBC, the complex as a manufacturing center for National Cash Register in 1957, with the addition of a new wing for offices in 1975. At one point, NCR employed over 1,000 people at the site. However, in 1991, NCR was acquired by AT&T, who sold the Ithaca facility to French company Axiohm three years later.
Workforce reductions and outsourcing had emptied most of the building, and Axiohm accepted an offer to sell the facility to a group of local investors headed by businessman Andy Sciarabba. The complex was renovated in the 2000s into a multi-tenant business center – SHBC. Axiohm, now Cognitive TPG, continues to occupy space as a tenant.
Before the late 2000s recession, SHBC, with 90% occupancy, presented sketch plans to the town to construct several new commercial and industrial buildings and create a business park, but those plans were discontinued as tenants closed or moved out during those hard economic times. There has been some “rebound”, but not enough to justify new work spaces as of yet. They would still be an option even if residential options are approved.
The current building isn’t permitted for residential – 40 years of manufacturing left the building environmentally compromised. It’s been re-mediated enough for business use, but not residential use. Any residential on the 56.6 acre site would have to be in new buildings.
There are certainly some favorable factors to an Emerson/Chain Works-type of redevelopment to complement SHBC. It’s close to major employers downtown, across the street from Ithaca College, there’s room for parking and amenities, and the town has had an eye towards encouraging development along that section of 96B and South Hill, by engaging with Form Ithaca to come up with ideas, and through the Route 96B pedestrian corridor study.
There’s nothing firm on the table, but the revisions in the PDZ language would certainly open the door wide for future development. We’ll see what the town board thinks of the idea next Tuesday.
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