Earlier this week, we reported on the planned closing of the Chemung Canal Trust bank branch and office located at 202 the Commons. According to a letter sent out by the bank to customers, the closure was due to a breakdown of lease negotiations.

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Nathan Lyman, Jason Fane’s lawyer, has a few other comments he would like to share with regards to that letter. In a press release sent by Lyman on behalf of Fane, Lyman challenged the assertions made by Chemung Canal Trust Company.

“It is more disappointing in that they appear to be misleading their customers and the public about their decision to abandon downtown Ithaca,” said Fane in the release. “Why is a big bank, with $1.6 billion in assets, acting this way?”

Contrary to the letter Chemung Canal sent out to customers, Lyman claims that in December 2013, the bank asked for and received a renewal of its lease for ten years starting in 2016.

“Last year the bank came to us saying their needs had changed…the asked the landlord [Fane] to try and help them reduce the space they occupy”, wrote Lyman. The letter states that Fane had plans drawn up, but that Chemung Canal did not respond to “a number of important questions” for almost a year. It further states that Chemung Canal had dishonored their agreement to pay rent by staying in the property after December 31st.

According to the release, Fane is planning to convert the vacant upper floors of office space to luxury apartments, and divide the tenant space on the first floor into two separate spaces. Kris Lewis of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance did confirm that preliminary plans for the project were shown at the February meeting of the Commons Advisory Board.

The conversion plan calls for preservation of historic features in the 1932 building, which Fane and Lyman state as a point of contention.

“The bank keeps changing its position and most recently asked for further space reductions that would imperil important architectural features. The landlord could not agree to this,” said Lyman.

Fane’s comment was more brash. “Chemung Canal is mistaken if they think I’m going to take this beautiful space and reduce it to a box like you would find in a strip mall.”

In a request for comment, Chemung Canal Vice President Mike Wayne said “we are aware of the recent comments by our landlord and we respectfully disagree with his interpretation and specific terms. Details of a possible extension were never determined and agreed to prior to the December 31st, 2015 expiration of our lease. Given the nature of this disagreement, the bank will have no further public comment.” Wayne noted that Chemung Canal has no plans for a new downtown branch location at this time.

If Jason Fane’s plans were to move forward, the new apartments, a mix of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, would be ready by summer 2017. Fane expects the location on the Commons would appeal to urban professionals and recently retired empty nesters.

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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.