ITHACA, N.Y. — The City of Ithaca had been mulling over what to do with the current fire station No. 2 (formerly station No. 9) in Collegetown for a few years. Now they want to see what interested buyers could do for them.

The City of Ithaca has issued a Request For Expressions of Interest (RFEI) for the 50-year-old fire station at 309 College Avenue. An RFEI is basically to gauge interest, to see if it would be worth the city’s effort of putting together and issuing a formal Request For Proposals (RFP). You could call an RFEI an RFP for RFPs; RFEIs are general statements, ballpark estimates and concept plans, while RFPs get into the nitty-gritty of measurements, timelines and costs. Word that the city was planning an RFEI for the Collegetown fire station was given at the city’s Planning Committee meeting back in May.

“The City is trying to determine if there is sufficient developer interest in the redevelopment of the fire station. Depending on what responses are received the City may choose to release an RFP, or may choose to negotiate directly with one of the respondents, or may decide not to redevelop the fire station site. If we decide to move forward with releasing an RFP, the Common Council would be informed, however, approval would not be needed at that point. Council would need to approve any selection of a preferred developer for the site,” said City of Ithaca Senior Planner Jennifer Kusznir.

Kusznir noted that developers have expressed informal interest in the fire station property – it’s located in the core of Collegetown and its MU-2 zoning allows up to six floors and 100 percent lot coverage, which means a fair amount of square footage can be built on what is some of the most expensive but lucrative land per square foot in the region, up to $15 million/acre. For example, the old No. 9 fire station next door has the same zoning but a smaller lot, just over half the size of the current station’s property. Visum Development Group’s proposal for the site was estimated to be worth about $8 million, according to county assessor Jay Franklin.

It may potentially be even more lucrative now that the option of a Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning overlay for a larger building is also available, if the developer can proof even greater community benefits can be achieved in exchange for extra floors.

In other words, should they choose to designate someone to redevelop it, the city can command a fairly hefty sum for the sale of the land, and generate quite a bit in new property taxes. The RFEI notes a developer could build a new station elsewhere and redevelop the 309 College Avenue site for other uses, rebuild a station at the base of a new and taxable multi-story building, or combine the lot with neighboring land parcels and put the fire station on one of those. A plan was initiated to use state and local funds to build a new station on a Cornell parking lot at 120 Maple Avenue, but that proposal appears to have a financial snag.

“At this point, no decision have been made regarding the future of the East Hill Fire Station.  However, the Maple Avenue site does appear to be cost prohibitive and so we are exploring other options,” said Kusznir.

Another reason for this solicitation of interest is that, being 50 years old, the existing fire station needs extensive upgrades to its utility systems, and that is not a cheap project. An analysis conducted by architect Pam Kingsbury last year found that the renovation costs would be approximately $1.4 million immediately, with $300,000 more in subsequent years. The state awarded Ithaca $990,000 to use towards a new fire station, but that money can only be used for the Maple Avenue plan, though the city may be able to petition the state to use the money for a new station at another location. Another option that’s been considered is the consolidation of the Collegetown Fire Station with the Central Fire Station at 310 West Green Street.

For those with deep pockets who might be interested, the submission due date for the RFEI is 3 PM on August 3rd. All submissions would need a cover letter, description of plans, and proof of qualifications that the submitter is capable of making their project a reality.

Brian Crandall

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