ITHACA, NY – Despite some noticeable similarities, the new proposal for the prime development site in the heart of downtown is striving to be more than just “the last project’s little brother.”

Back in January, the much-ballyhooed 11-story project slated for the site, called State Street Triangle, returned with a new nine-story version of the building. About a week later, the project was dropped entirely and the site’s future became uncertain.

Then in June, a new developer announced their plans for the site, calling the project “City Centre.” On its face, the new proposal has some similarities to the old one, but the project team is hoping to differentiate the project from its predecessor.

City Centre (new project) rendering on the left, State Street Triangle (old project) rendering on right.

On Tuesday, the project team for City Centre presented some preliminary plans to Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board.

They outlined a few different configurations for the building that they had considered, but the plan they were leaning toward was a fairly uniform V-shaped building with a courtyard and green belt facing out toward Green Street.

One key difference that is sure to please many critics of the old project is that City Centre is not at all catered toward students. Its approximately 250 units will be around market rate with a focus on amenities that suit an urban lifestyle.

“The overall approach we’ve taken is trying to get around the point that is not accessible for people right now. This is a totally private project, so there aren’t any subsidies that would help to make units more affordable. We’ve taken the approach that we’re going to try to be more creative in our design and take into account some of these very urban ideas,” said Shawn Bell.

Bell explained that the units are a little smaller and more efficient, but the building has a number of amenities, including: a roof terrace overlooking the Commons, green space in the courtyard, common areas for hosting friends and family, a fitness center, a business center, and bike storage.

The proposed sketch plan. (Soure: City Planning documents)

Board’s reaction

The board seemed generally accepting of the new design, some liking it as it was, others seeing it as a good starting point. The design scored points for addressing three of the primary concerns of the previous project: its height, its student focus and its lack of parking (City Centre has 71 spaces of underground parking).

However, several members said that they felt the building lacked creativity in its uniformity.

“Architecture is not just an extruding process,” said board member Jack Elliott. He suggested that since the area is zoned for a taller building, perhaps the building could be taller in the front and stepped down along State Street. This would create a series of terraces that could possibly be home to more green space, an idea which excited many board members.

Board member Robert Aaron Lewis said he was okay with the building as it stood, but felt that the team had a lot of space to work with, so they could be creative and create a more visually interesting building.

“I think you’re helping yourselves if you take some of these suggestions,” said board member John Schroeder. “Just adding interest and somewhat lower height on State Street, maybe build up on Green Street. I think you’re gonna have a better looking projects, you’re going to deal with some of the environmental issues people are concerned with, and you might make the general public happier with it too, and you can do it in a way without losing units.”

Planning consultant Scott Whitham, who was also on the project team for the previous proposal, agreed. He said the discussion was very fruitful and the board’s suggestions mirrored many ideas that the team had already been discussing.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.