ITHACA, N.Y. — The city sees the State Street Corridor as a sort of development connector between Downtown and the West End. A local developer seems to be on board with the idea.
Last Friday, an LLC sharing an address with Visum Development picked up 409 W. State St. for $475,000 from Robert Sparks and Gregor Brous (whose name readers might know from his family’s ownership of Collegetown Bagels). This is well above the assessed value of $160,000.
According to county records, the site’s two buildings, which are 2,437 square feet and 2,532 square feet, are used as a combination of office space and storage. The building closer to the street, a converted older residential building, housed Soma Yoga and Living Arts for a number of years, but the yoga and massage studio closed in 2010.
In the years since, the blocks along West State Street, dubbed the “State Street Corridor,” have been seen by the city as a sort of spine to connect the established Downtown core with the Waterfront and the West End, which the city hopes to grow into denser, mixed-use neighborhoods. The property was upzoned to CBD-60 in 2013, meaning a project can be up to 60 feet tall (generally equivalent to 4 to 5 floors for an office building with standard 13-14-foot floors, and six floors in the case of smaller 9-10-foot residential floor heights) and no parking is required on-site. A back of the envelope calculation (~7000 square-foot footprint, multiplied six floors, as this is very unlikely to be office space) suggests enough space for ground floor retail and a few dozen residential units.
The gist of the idea is that Ithaca has affordable housing issues stemming in part from a lack of supply, yet there are quality of life and affordability concerns with development in more established, lower-density residential neighborhoods, as seen with the latest debate about infill housing in places like South Hill and Northside.
Downtown’s mostly built out, so the solution has been to upzone and encourage growth in the West End and Waterfront areas, which were largely torn apart by 1960s urban renewal and long neglected by the community at large. Since Downtown and the West End aren’t right next to each other, the city uses the corridor to attain some degree of urban density and maintain one contiguous route of shops and services that residents of nearby residential areas can walk or bike to.
Visum Development, led by local businessman Todd Fox, has not been shy about its interest in the State Street Corridor. It was revealed in the city’s Downtown Redevelopment Initiative (DRI) application to the state that Visum had been considering two major mixed-use projects along the 500 Block of West State Street, each of which would have housed at least 100 housing units priced at the 80%-90% or median income “workforce housing” bracket. The funding was not awarded to Ithaca, and Fox stated that Visum was no longer going to pursue at least some of those sites. In addition, Visum just received approvals for a 12-unit, 80-90% AMI project to be built at nearby 327 West Seneca Street.
The State Street Corridor has seen a number of new projects proposed or underway in the past couple of years. David Halpert and Teresa Deschanes are renovating the historic but long vacant Tibbetts-Rumsey house at 310 West State Street into eight beds of co-op housing, with a new six-bed infill housing structure at the rear end of the lot. Local developer Stavros Stavropoulos is finishing up an 11-unit building at 107 South Albany Street, and INHS is planning a 42-unit mixed-use (office/service space + affordable housing) building at the Salvation Army site at 150 North Albany Street, with plans expected to be submitted to the city for review next year.