ITHACA, NY – Early plans presented to the Ithaca city Planning Board detail big dreams for the “Chain Works District” at the old Emerson Power Transmission site on South Hill.

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Plans by Horseheads-based UnChained Properties LLC call for not only the renovation of the vacant 800,000 square-foot factory and remediation of lingering soil and water pollution, but an entire new neighborhood of townhouses and apartments to go along with the new retail, workshop, event and office spaces in the factory itself.

In a related document filed by city planners, the entire neighborhood could create up to 915 condos and apartments over a period of 10 to 15 years. The new buildings beyond the walls of the old factory would not be constructed until later phases, which wouldn’t be until the end of this decade, if not the 2020s. Some of the new homes would be located in renovated portions of the existing factory buildings.

For comparison’s sake, since 2006 there have been 749 new homes and apartments built in the city of Ithaca. So the long-term build-out of the Emerson site could potentially have a large impact on the city and county’s dearth of housing.

The plans follow the New Urbanist approach that has become increasingly popular in city planning, including here in the city of Ithaca. Parking is located behind buildings, streets are interconnected and lined with sidewalks, and large green spaces serve as public gathering areas, rather than big backyards.

Meanwhile, taking a look at things more likely to happen this decade, plans were also shown for a renovated Building 21, which would be a part of the first phase of renovations, estimated to cost $8.6 million and tentatively an early 2017 construction start. The boarded up windows would be replaced with new glazing and the interior would be renovated for 43,340 square-feet of commercial office space.

Once the city and town planning board have had their comments addressed by the development team, the project will be presented to the Planning Committee of the Common Council, and the first public hearing is tentatively expected to occur at the end of March.

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Brian Crandall

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