ITHACA, N.Y. — A planned demolition in the heart of Collegetown suggests another development plan is on the horizon.
Prominent local developer and landlord John Novarr has submitted plans to demolish the one-story building at 325 College Avenue, on the southeast corner of College and Dryden Road. A recent change in city policy mandates the review of any demolition plan where redevelopment of the site may be the primary, near-future intent.
The nondescript 3,972 square foot masonry building currently on-site was built for the Turk Brothers clothing store back in 1985. Since the store closed in the early 2000s, the site has at times served as a sandwich shop and as a site for a Tompkins Trust ATM, but has otherwise been vacant for long stretches. The property was sold to an LLC associated with Novarr and business partner Philip Proujansky in 2011 and has served as a sales and information office for other Novarr-Mackesey projects such as Collegetown Terrace.
The site is considered one of the most prime parcels in Collegetown, and the land is among the most expensive per square foot in Tompkins County. The location at the core of Collegetown led the city to give the site its most accommodating zoning – MU-2, allowing for a six-story, 80-foot tall structure with 100% lot coverage and no required on-site parking.
According to the letter of intent from business partner Herman Sieverding of Intergrated Acquisition and Development (IAD), the demolitions is for a potential site re-development, but there is no project designed at the moment. “We expect that once the building is demolished it will be approximately 6 to 12 months before a project is designed, permitted and ready for construction.” Once the building is down and the site cleared, the plan is to fence off the property and put a construction trailer on the site to serve the Novarr project under construction at 238 Linden Avenue, and then leave the site fenced and vacant once that apartment project opens next summer.
Novarr made clear in a phone call that no explicit plan has been submitted. “Nothing is set in stone yet. We need to get the building down and drill and see what the rock is like before we go forward.”
The demolition would allow the site to undergo a thorough geotechnical report, which tests the soil and bedrock for its ability to support a structure, and in relation, how much it would cost to build the foundation to support that structure.
The Sieverding letter makes reference to the possibility of using a Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUDOD), which would allow a building to be built that would potentially exceed zoning in exchange for community benefit, like affordable housing or community space. Any proposal would need to not only be approved by the city Planning Board but also the Common Council.
Novarr sought to downplay the reference, saying he and his partners are “not really familiar with the process and what the chances are.” No city project has utilized the PUDOD yet, which was enacted last spring.
This would not be Novarr’s first exploration of developing 325 College Avenue. In July 2014, he and his development team proposed a residential structure for the corner, with 2,000 square feet of ground-level retail and apartments above. The plan, which was tied into a residential proposal for the eastern half of the block, never gained traction, and Novarr would submit plans for the Cornell Breazzano Center for Executive MBA students the following year. According to Novarr, since it was only a sketch (early concept) plan, soil testing and other pre-development work was not carried out.
Novarr, working with IAD and Proujansky, have carried out a number of projects in and near Collegetown in recent years. Those include the 1,200+ bed Collegetown Terrace on East State Street, the Breazzano Center at 209-215 Dryden Road, and apartments for visiting Cornell faculty and staff under construction at 119-125 College Avenue. The renewed interest in Collegetown stands in contrast with concerns from other neighborhood landlords about slack in the Collegetown market as Cornell’s Maplewood has opened for occupancy, and a 2,000-bed expansion on North Campus has been in the works. Novarr and his partners serve as part of the development team in charge of Cornell’s proposed dormitories.