Jeff Stein/Ithaca Voice

ITHACA, N.Y. — At their monthly meeting Tuesday night, the Planning Board got their first looks at preliminary design concepts for a downtown development on the corner of North Aurora and East Seneca Streets.

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The project is being developed by local businessmen Todd Fox, Charlie O’Connor and Bryan Warren. Fox heads Visum Development Group. Warren operates Warren Real Estate, and Fox and O’Connor are business partners in local rental company Modern Living Rentals.

It should be noted that the project is very preliminary. Sometimes, when a project goes up as a sketch plan to the board, it’s already thought out, down to the details. Other times, like in this case, it’s that the developers know what they want to incorporate into a project, like housing or office space, and they know what the zoning allows, but they’re looking for design guidance. They put forth ideas, and they want to know what the board thinks would be most appropriate. The board’s doesn’t say “you can’t do it”, but they are going to say “given what you’re telling us, and given what we know about the site, here’s what we like and don’t like”.

Potentially, up to three existing buildings could be incorporated into the project – the Collegetown Bagels building at 201-207 N. Aurora, which was purchased by the developers last July, along with the Warren’s Standard Art Supply building behind it at 308 East Seneca Street, and possibly The Shop building at 314 East Seneca Street, owned by local architect Jagat Sharma.

With this Aurora project, local architect Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is in charge of exploring and fleshing out the design concepts, and incorporating guidance from the board. The initial design concepts the developers looked at involved a historically-inspired design, a modern design, and a modern design that incorporated the existing buildings, as shown in the concept drawings above.

With some further discussion and figuring out what ideas they wanted to bring forward, the following two designs were created by STREAM – a “Modern Alternative” design that doesn’t reuse existing buildings, and a “Warm Warehouse Alternative”, which does re-use the existing buildings, not unlike the overbuild the Carey Building is finishing up a few blocks away.

At this point is where the planning board’s role came in, where they talk about what they like, what they don’t like, and to give guidance and direction the development team could best move forward in. The general feeling was in the direction of the “Warm Warehouse” approach.

Both concepts call for first-floor retail with apartments on the floors above. Zoning for the site is CBD-60, allowing a building up to 60 feet tall, with no required parking (the Seneca Street parking garage is directly across Aurora Street).

Jeff Stein/Ithaca Voice

When asked about the project, Todd Fox emailed the following statement:

“We spent a lot of time and energy looking into the history of our site, along with the various buildings that make up the downtown core. We wanted to be sympathetic to whats existing, along with the community as a whole. Our goal was to take a more open approach by providing various architectural styles and allowing for feedback from the board and community. This site is in essence, the gateway into downtown Ithaca and it deserves a beautiful building that will stand the test of time.

We are anticipating the approval process taking anywhere from 6 months to a year. We wouldn’t look to actually do anything with the site for close to two years from the time we actually receive site plan approval [i.e., late 2018 or 2019]. We are very conscious of the character of that block, which is a direct result of the small business owners that occupy the various retail spaces. We see this project as a tremendous opportunity to improve on this unique character and to create an even more dynamic experience for local residents. I believe most of the current tenants would look to reoccupy space once the new building is constructed. For example, Collegetown Bagels would like expand their existing footprint. The new building would allow them to do so, along with a better layout and user experience.”

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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.