ITHACA, N.Y. — One of the waterfront’s higher profile properties changed hands last week as part of a multi-million deal, one that could result in further development in the increasingly-popular West End.

The $1.1 million sale of 902 Taber St. closed on Jan. 17, and the next day the $1.4 million deed was filed for 120-40 Brindley Street, the address for the Aeroplane Factory office and industrial complex. The buyers were local businessman and Collegetown Bagels owner Gregor Brous, electrician Robert Sparks of Sparks Electric, and Jerry Dietz, who runs CSP Management, an Ithaca-based property management firm.

The three-building collection consists of the 6,976 square-foot Aeroplane Factory Building at 120 Brindley St., the 5,740 square-foot Hangar Building at 140 Brindley Street, and the 6,163 square-foot 902 Taber Street. The 2.38-acre property had been on the market for the past few years, with an initial asking price of $2.79 million, that was later trimmed to $2.7 million. The Aeroplane Factory takes its name from the Thomas-Morse Aeroplane Factory, which once had its headquarters and manufacturing facility at 120 Brindley St. During World War I, the Thomas-Morse S-4 Scout, also called the “Tommy”, was the Army and Navy’s preferred plane for training combat pilots.

Related: Tommy’s Centennial: Ithaca will witness historic flight

Early marketing materials showed a perspective drawing of a fourth building, representing an additional building site on the property that could be used as an infill development by a potential buyer. Those plans, which suggested office or live/work space, were speculative and not something that had undergone municipal review. Since hitting the market four years ago, the city approved updates to its waterfront zoning that expanded the possibility of residential uses on site. According to Dietz, this was one of the things that drew their interest in the West End properties.

“We don’t plan to change much of what’s there but to enhance it. We like the location a lot. We think that area is going to start to come on as a very interesting and a mixed residential and industrial area, and in conjunction with what the city has zoned with regard to zoning, that makes it an intriguing parcel for us,” said Dietz.

“It’s something I’ve had my sights on for several years, the parcel’s been on the market for a while, it was priced with an eye towards its potential, and it just took a little while for the potential to catch up with the pricing.”

As for what might be done with the space, Dietz did something of a rarity; he offered specific ideas instead of the usual vague, optimistic generalities. In sum, the plan is a blend of keeping the old, historic portions and adding some new additions to the space, though Dietz prefaced by noting it would be over a period of years and not anything to happen right away.

Image courtesy of Historic Ithaca

“The Aeroplane Factory itself is an old, historic building that played a role in building airplanes back in the day, we like that and have no plans to change it. The Hangar Building has a great tenant so we see no change there, and there is some potential for 902 Taber St. on the west end of the parcel. We have some thoughts on what that might be, but everyone has a lease and we want to wait for that to finish out. There’s also space for a new building, with a 9,000 square-foot footprint, that leaves some intriguing possibilities. A small house used to be on the lot, 900 Taber St., but it was torn down a number of years ago, and that site has modest possibilities. More intriguing is the larger space on the Brindley Street property and the space for a new building. We’re giving some thought on what that might look like. In a perfect world, it would be a combination of affordable housing, market-rate, and some office space.”

Ithaca’s long-neglected West End has seen a surge of new interest in the past few years, thanks to growth limitations in other parts of the city (Downtown’s mostly built out, sparse opportunities in established neighborhoods), and revised policies such as the more flexible zoning. Dietz said he has high hopes for the revitalization of the West End.

“There’s already some fun stuff going on down there with The Cherry and the Ports of New York, and there’s potential to create a very interesting neighborhood. Over the next 5-10 years, I think the area will take on a very different complexion. One man’s vision, I guess,” Dietz said with a laugh.

“I care about what’s in the best interest of the community, the Just Be Cause Center (a privately-subsidized not-for-profit office venue established in honor of Dietz’s late wife Judy) is nearby…many people have commented over the years on the waterfront’s development and what’s ended up down there; it’s been less than inspiring. Historically speaking, Ithaca hasn’t down a good job with its waterfront area. Things are changing; the zoning, the Cayuga Medical project, Guthrie, Greenstar…the West End is, I think, it’s taken some time, but it’s finally going to get the attention it deserves. It’s a beautiful part of the city.”

Brian Crandall

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