ITHACA, N.Y. — Harold’s Square might just be getting underway, but several other projects are set to redefine Ithaca’s downtown core over the next year or so. Since googling “Ithaca skyline” generally brings up Cornell photos, a more prominent downtown would be an asset if only to teach Google’s algorithms that Cornell is not all of Ithaca. Anyway, here’s a look at some of the projects underway.

Hilton Canopy Hotel

Another project that, like Harold’s Square, is “finally, finally underway”. Although a $19.5 million construction loan was filed by developer Baywood Hotels way back in September 2016, for various reasons this downtown project failed to break ground until recently. Better late than never, perhaps. Binghamton-based William H. Lane Inc. is the general contractor for the project.

Right now, the site at 310-324 East State Street is being excavated, and it looks like there’s a pile driver already in place to start work on the steel piles that will support the weight of the seven-story building. The top layer of soil is a mix of rubble from the old Strand Theater (torn down in the early 1990s) and unknown but variable fill, and because they can’t trust the safety of that, the top layer will be trucked away and replaced with imported clean fill that they can trust to be stable. The building won’t have a basement, and instead it will be the piles, topped with a concrete slab, with a steel frame and concrete decks above ground. The 131-room hotel is expected to open in Spring 2019.

City Centre

In contrast to the Canopy, City Centre will have a basement, or more specifically, a 71-space underground garage. The plan here is to use a mat foundation, which is a shallow foundation that doesn’t make use of piles or pile drivers. The company that did the geotechnical report for City Centre reported that a 26-inch mat foundation was feasible based on soil borings, and would be less expensive than a deep pile foundation like the one being used for the Canopy. So basically, excavate some trenches, build some big footers with a lot of rebar, and pour a 26″ concrete slab. Support columns will transfer the weight of the building through the garage and into the slab beneath.

Going past the site right now, excavation work continues, with timber lagging, steel H-beam soldier piles, and steel tieback anchors that extend underneath the streets. The whole point is to reinforce the soil, because no one wants East State or South Aurora Street collapsing into the construction site. Foundations can be complex and time-consuming, and the building may not rise above street level until sometime late in the winter or early next spring. Occupancy of the eight-story mixed-use building won’t be until 2019. According to a construction loan filed with the county this week, M&T Bank is lending $47.9 million to Newman Development Group to complete the project.

Tompkins Financial Corporation Headquarters

A little further along is the Tompkins Financial Corporation’s new digs on the 100 Block of East Seneca Street. From the front, the building remains a bare steel frame, with its fireproofed interior and interior stud walls exposed to the world. From the rear and west side, however, LeChase Construction has most of the building closed up with sheathing and facade materials, which include tan brick, stone sills and bands, aluminum metal panels, sunshades and new windows. It could just be the camera and my eyes, but the black brick doesn’t appear as dark as the drawings, more a medium shade of grey if anything. The official opening date for the HOLT Architects-designed building is set for March 2018.

CFCU Bank Tower Renovation

It may not be as eye-popping, but it’s a big win for the Commons. Since the departure of Chemung Canal Trust Company, Miller Mayer and other local firms, Bank Tower has mostly been vacant. After mulling a plan for apartments, and a new apartment tower next door, landlord Jason Fane entered into a deal with local financial services company CFCU to renovate the building to give them a new headquarters in the heart of the city. CFCU will occupy all of the first floor, including space at 111 N. Tioga, the Bank Tower second floor, and the Seneca Street parking lot and drive through ATM. The move is expected to move 30-40 staff downtown, and give CFCU space to add 20 new HQ positions as the credit union continues to expand through the Finger Lakes. The offices are expected to be ready for staff next year.

Brian Crandall

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