TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — Tompkins County legislators unanimously voted in favor of acquiring the Tompkins Trust building for $2 million to create a Heritage Center.
The center is envisioned to be a hub of culture, tourism and history in the heart of Downtown Ithaca.
A number of local agencies are interested in a co-location plan, including the Historic Ithaca Library, the Convention and Visitor Bureau’s Visitor Center, the Community Arts Partnership, the Wharton Studio Museum, the Dorothy Cotton Institute, the Discovery Trail, the Sustainability Center and the Ithaca Aviation Heritage Foundation.
Legislator Anna Kelles said it’s important to highlight that acquiring the building and consolidating organizations into one building is an investment, not an expense.
“There are several groups that will be in this building that we support in separate buildings,” Kelles said.
Several community members spoke in favor of the resolution before the vote.
Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said the Heritage Center will not only help the History Center grow, but it will work with other entities in the county, too.
“I believe that this particular is probably the highest and best use you can have for that particular site. It’s a historic building. Reusing it as a Heritage Center is just a very novel and very creative and very appropriate thing to do,” Ferguson said.
The timing, as several local residents pointed out, is perfect for the county. The History Center’s 25-year lease in the Gateway Building is set to expire in 2018, around the same time the Tompkins Trust Building on the Ithaca Commons will be vacated.
Tompkins Trust will leave the building when its new downtown headquarters opens next year. Tompkins Trust is willing to sell the building the the county for $2 million, which is about $400,000 below the assessed value of the property.
Renovations needed to bring the building up to code could add $900,000 to the cost.
If the History Center were to stay in its current location at 401 E. State St., the rent is expected to go up $90,000 per year.
In the end, county administrator Joe Mareane and legislator Rich John in a memo recommended the county acquire the property.
According to the memo, the portion of the building’s costs for the History Center through county appropriation will be about $150,000, which is $40,000 more than its current occupancy cost, but $50,000 less than what is expected if the History Center stays in its current location.
“There’s always risks but overall I think this is a very good investment of public funds and I stress it’s not spending money, it’s investment money,” John said.
The county will apply unanticipated revenue from the Tioga Downs and del Lago Casinos to finance the acquisition and improvement of the building.
Read the full resolution and supporting documents below.