ITHACA, N.Y. — A major exterior redesign has been submitted for Downtown Ithaca’s long-planned Harold’s Square project.

Documents submitted to the city last week call for a strikingly different design to the 12-story building planned on The Commons at 123-139 East State Street. According to a letter from project engineer Jamie Gensel, the terracotta panels and multiple Commons storefront entrances previously planned for the 12-story building are to be replaced with metal panels and a single exterior entrance to serve a larger tenant, if the city planning board gives their approval. The change is “in order to ensure the financial viability of the project”.

Other changes include the removal of the indoor atrium in favor of an outdoor court that connects with Green Street, the addition of a mechanical penthouse, moving the elevator shaft and reconfiguration of the micro units. As a result, the project has gained six micro units, bringing the total number of apartment units to 114 – 46 micro-units, 38 one-bedrooms, and 38 two-bedrooms.

Tenant spaces on the Commons call for a 12,780 SF (square-foot) retail space in the new building, and a smaller 2,800 SF retail space on the renovated first floor of the historic Sage Block, possibly geared towards a restaurant tenant. New or renovated office space has decreased from 25,000 SF to just under 16,000 SF on the second and third floors (just the second floor in the case of the Sage building – the third floor will host apartments).

Concurrently, the project team, led by developer David Lubin of Horseheads, is asking for revisions to a tax abatement granted by the Tompkins County IDA to the previous iteration of the project.

The Harold’s Square project has struggled to move forward since receiving municipal approvals and tax breaks back in 2013. One of the early issues was that the project has planned with four floors of office space, in a market where office space is not in high demand. As a result, the development team had substantial difficulty securing tenants that would allow the project to achieve high enough occupancy to obtain a construction loan.

A revision last year changed the building plan to one floor of office space and an increased number of apartments, including micro-units. Given the strong market for apartments, it was seen as more financially workable, and the revisions were approved last fall. McGuire Development of Buffalo has teamed up with Lubin to bring the building to fruition.

The reasons given for the revised and enhanced tax abatement request are the costs for revising the building plans, and the increasing costs of materials and labor since the abatement’s passage in 2013. The overall costs for Harold’s Square have increased 12%, to $42.9 million. The tax abatement, if approved, would save the developer $5.1 million over 10 years, an increase of about 28% over the 7-year, $3.65 million abatement approved back in 2013.

The IDA application gives June 2017 to the first quarter of 2019 as a construction period, but that assumes revised building and tax approvals are granted in quick succession, and that everything else is ready to go. Perhaps the best indicator will be to keep an eye out for when the poster store’s “demolition sale” finally ends.

Brian Crandall

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