ITHACA, NY – The latest discussion for the State Street Triangle housing development disappeared from the Planning Board’s agenda on Tuesday. It reflected more than a cancellation of the meeting, though – the entire project has been cancelled.
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Late last week, The Voice ran an article detailing how the project would be shrinking in size and lessening its focus on student housing to appease the concerns of city officials. In particular, Mayor Svante Myrick had come out against the project, publicly opposing tax breaks for the development.
Despite having drawn up new plans addressing some of those concerns, it seems that developer Campus Advantage decided to pull the entire project.
Campus Advantage released a statement saying they were unable to come to an agreement with the owner of the land following the reduction in housing units with the last draft.
The statement said Campus Advantage was “disappointed we will not have the opportunity to bring much-needed housing to the Ithaca community along with a generous contribution to the city’s Affordable Housing Fund. We were unable to come to an agreement with the landowner after the reduction in the number of units on the site.”
Why did the project fall apart?
Planning consultant Scott Whitham, who worked on the project, offered the following thoughts on what led to the cancellation:
As you would imagine with a smaller project and less units, there’s a different financial equation involved. With Campus Advantage working with us, we put together a smaller scheme in response to the city and community concerns, and we felt we had a pretty good compromise with the reduced project.
But we needed to reach a new agreement with the landowner, we did extensive feasibility of what we could expect for a project of that size. The value is based on current zoning and what can be built by right. But for a site that is so central to the community, there are other variables in setting the price for the land. We saw that over the past year, and with a lot of back and forth, we thought it looked good, and then it didn’t look good, and it doesn’t look good now. That’s the best way to describe the trajectory.
As of last week, we thought we had an agreement with Colbert [the owner of the Trebloc property]. The contract for the land expired Dec. 12, and since then there’s been negotiating to renew the contract. We still might be able to reach an agreement. There’s great disappointment, even among those with concerns, that after this process of revision, it may not move forward. At this moment, there’s not a project in hand, so that’s why we’re not moving forward at this time. Negotiations have proved unsuccessful over the last week.
What happens next?
Ithaca’s Director of Planning and Econimic Development JoAnn Cornish, said that the city was disappointed in the cancellation and that it was a loss for the city, but added “I don’t think that parcel will remain vacant for long.”
The project had been in the works for about a year, but Cornish thinks that the next proposal might go through much faster, assuming that they’d been paying attention to what happened with this project.
“I think anyone looking to approach the owner will have learned a lesson,” she said. If the next project proposal hews closer to the city’s goals from the start, it might only take six months to reach the point that the Campus Advantage project had reached.
A project post-mortem
Cornish recounted how far the project had come since the start. She said that despite concerns about the housing being student-focused, there was still a lot of excitement about the project.
Even if it was for primarily for students, she said, it was a great opportunity to “get students off the hill, get them, eating, buying and living downtown.” The fact that the development would be mixed use, with commercial space on the first floor also made the project look like a great fit.
“The first iteration was alarming. We were thinking, ‘Oh my god, what have we done?,’” Cornish said, noting that the sheer size of the building was more a concern than the student housing angle.
Cornish praised Campus Advantage as being good to work with, saying, “They were approachable, thoughtful, and listened to our concerns. We could have come to a project that everyone would have been excited about.”
As the project went forward, they adjusted the design and pulled focus away from the student housing, creating spaces that would be good for young professionals, empty-nesters or small families.
While she could only speculate on the exact reasons that the deal fell through, she said, “You never know, maybe [Campus Advantage] will be back.”
Brian Crandall contributed reporting.