ITHACA, N.Y. — For those with creative minds and deep pockets, here’s your next opportunity – the  Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for purchase and potential redevelopment of the former Immaculate Conception School at 320 West Buffalo Street.

The school closed in June 2017 as the result of declining enrollment and sustained operating defects in regional parishes. Since that time, several non-profit and for-profit developers have informally proposed renovating existing buildings and adding new structures for affordable housing or mixed-income housing on the site.

The 12-page RFP, which is being managed by local commercial realty firm Stephen Lipinski Associates, lists three parcels with 2.29 acres and 59,000 square feet of existing built space. That includes the school, the former convent turned office space for Catholic Charities, and the single-family and two-family homes the church owns at 330 West Buffalo Street and 309 North Plain Street.

Image courtesy of Stephen Lipinski Associates LLC.

The RFP touts flexibility in zoning as one of the site’s major selling points. The Immaculate Conception School is located within the PUD Overlay District, a sort of “do-it-yourself zoning” where a project doesn’t have to comply with existing zoning (R-2b residential in this case), if they can obtain Common Council approval as well as Planning Board approval. The city sees PUD-OD as a way of loosening some zoning regulations in exchange for enhanced community benefits, such as affordable housing units or community meeting space.

This might be best illustrated with a hypothetical example. Zoning on the Immaculate Conception School site allows three floors and 35% lot coverage. Let’s say a developer wants to take down the gymnasium and put up a four-story affordable apartment building on that side. The loss of revenue per unit from the housing being affordable instead of more expensive housing is being offset by another floor of units. A trip to the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals would be the normal route, but they are generally opposed to large self-created variance needs. However, with PUDOD, if the developer can convince Common Council that the extra floor is worth it for more affordable housing, then they may get their plan approved.

Those interested in the site will have to respond with a suite of paperwork including a cover letter, a standardized project description form, a letter of intent describing the sales bid, buyers and timeline for sale, a document describing any redevelopment plans, files showing the financial capacity to make those plans a reality, and paperwork demonstrating relevant project experience – for example, if you want to renovate the school into housing, show proof you’ve successfully done this before.

As one might suspect for a private entity, the bids will be confidential. Submissions will be evaluated on economic return for the church, the qualifications of the proposed buyer, and the quality of the proposed project and its compatibility with the neighborhood and community at-large. Potential bidders have until October 2nd to submit their plans. No timeline on the decision-making process has been made public, but would likely be dependent on the number and quality of bids.

Brian Crandall

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