ITHACA, N.Y. — If you like Press Bay Alley, here’s some good news – it’s going to be expanding. Urban Core LLC, the development company of local businessmen John Guttridge and David Kuckuk, has plans to renovate the former McNeil Music/Ithaca Photo Building at 108-114 West Green Street into more “micro-enterprise units”, and turn the neighboring parking lot into a pedestrian plaza.
“This is an expansion of what we’ve already done, the Press Bay project has been a lot of fun and a tremendous success, and we want to keep doing more. We’re happy to acquire this building because it allows us to create a draw to the highest trafficked pedestrian corner in Ithaca. We feel if we put something interesting there, it will help the Press Bay Alley be even more successful,” said Guttridge.
Press Bay Alley is as quirky as Ithacans like to think they are. Spaces at the micro-retail plaza on West Green Street range from a 160 SF barbershop to a 2,000 SF confectioner. In between, one has a novelty store, a cafe, a circus school, an herb/spice shop, a high-tech workshop and electric bikes. Around Halloween, it becomes Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. It’s an eclectic development by any regard.
What Urban Core’s latest project would do is expand that micro-retail mix eastward towards the corner of Green and Cayuga Streets, the Commons and the downtown core. The parking lot in front of D. P. Dough would be converted into a plaza much like Press Bay Alley’s, and the first floor of the worn out building next door would be renovated into eight micro-retail units facing the new plaza (the Green Street entrances would be retained). The second floor would be renovated into two apartments and about 1,000 square feet of office space.
The project would cost about $900,000, most of which would go into property acquisition. Financing comes from a Tompkins Trust Company loan, cash/equity, and what the developers hope will be a $200,000 loan from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency.
“As has to be the case for the IURA to be involved, the project has a financing gap – the most financially successful use for that site is probably to tear it down and build a big building. But we’re not interested in doing that, we want to create interstitial spaces [plazas, pedestrian alleys] and adaptive re-use of interesting structures. By using the IURA’s low-interest lending, we’re able to do a project that might otherwise not be possible,” explained Guttridge. Similarly, plans to renovate the Ithaca Journal Building into an indoor market have been stalled due to difficulties in closing the financing gap.
Not everything will be changing though. Two things that would likely be staying if the project moves forward as planned include the hawk mural on the west wall, and D.P. Dough, which is set back from the street and whose front yard would change from parking space to park-like space. “The owners have been really excellent to deal with. They’re really excited about this project, they’re talking about renovating their own space at the same time. I don’t want to displace anybody that’s been around a while.”
The current plan is to complete the building purchase within the next month. If all goes as hoped, renovation work will start this summer, with completion in six to nine months.