ITHACA, N.Y. — Well, this isn’t the type of news one hears everyday. The city of Ithaca is entertaining a proposition from a national developer that would buy and replace the Green Street Garage, replacing it with a conference center and hundreds of apartments.

The plan was unveiled in the city’s planning committee agenda earlier today. The development team proposes replacement of the parking garage with a mixed-use project including an approximately 25,000 square-foot conference center, 350 housing units, 450 public parking spaces and retention of the Cinemapolis movie theater as part of the redevelopment. The project would be urban-friendly, with street level active-uses (shops, eateries) along Green Street. The Green Street Garage currently offers 415 spaces.

The developer is identified in documents as “Ithaca Properties LLC”, of which at least one co-owner is known – developer Jeff Rimland, who played a role in the development of the Ithaca Marriott next door to the garage. Partnered with Ithaca Properties LLC is Peak Campus, a Georgia-based real estate developer specializing in student housing and apartment projects near large colleges and universities. With that noted, it appears student housing may be a component, but it’s not 100% clear at this time.

At a glance, this checks off multiple boxes on the city and county’s wish list – a conference center would draw in business travelers and conventioneers to local hotels and restaurants, it adds housing in a desirable location that offers an easy commute to employers, it has overtures toward urban design guidelines, and the overall plan calls for an urban development that doesn’t encroach on historic neighborhoods surrounding downtown. The project would continue to offer some amount of parking towards the public, although it is not clear if the 450 spaces include residents of the housing units, or if that’s a separate calculation. However, there is much to work through and consider, such as infrastructure impacts, parking impacts, and the determination of a fair value paid to the city for the garage.

The Green Street Garage, built in 1974, is suffering from major structural issues as many of its components approach the end of their 50-year period of safe use. Already, the western and eastern wings are experiencing structural issues that require substantial renovation and replacement, a hefty sum that the city has been looking at over the past couple of years.

Zoning for the 1.45 acre garage property is actually some of the most amenable to large projects in the entire county – CBD-140, meaning a building up to 140 feet tall, with 100% lot coverage, and no parking requirement. Commercial, residential, and mixed-uses are allowed. That allows for a developer with deep pockets to have plenty of options for a big project.

City policy mandates that the Board of Public Works would need to declare the garage as surplus, and that the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) and Common Council would need to consent of the sale of the land to the developer. The project would also need to go through the Planning Board for regular review in the approvals process. This is not something that will play out in a short time frame – this is the very big announcement of what will likely be a long, winding discussion and debate process.

Wednesday’s Common Council Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) meeting will have a presentation from the developer to formally introduce the project to the public in attendance.

“It’s the first public discussion,” said PEDC Chair Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward). “Common Council has to vote to transfer property to {the} IURA. We’ll find out more about what Council thinks at the meeting on Wednesday.”

Brian Crandall

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