TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. – The Tompkins County Legislature voted Tuesday to loan $500,000 to enable the timely completion of the Tompkins Center for History and Culture. The Center is due to open in April in the former Tompkins Trust Company building at 110 N. Tioga St., which the county purchased in 2017.
The three-year, no interest loan will serve as bridge financing to help the project clear the finish line before grants and pledges already committed by New York state and foundations are delivered. The Park Foundation also issued $500,000 in bridge financing for the project, and Tompkins Trust is expected to match the county’s contribution.
Renovation work on the historic building is nearly complete and several organizations have already begun to move into their new spaces on the Commons. The History Center, the Dorothy Cotton Institute, and the Discovery Trail have relocated, and the World War I Tommy plane restored by the Ithaca Aviation Heritage Foundation has landed in its new spot. Visit Ithaca plans to open its gift shop and visitors’ center on April 1 and the Community Arts Partnership plans to host a First Friday Gallery Night in the space on April 5, according to a History Center news release.
Legislator Rich John, who has led the county’s efforts to support the new center, said the loan is a low-risk way of helping finish the project. “This is a loan to help with the interim financing while grants are in process,” he said.
John said the county should be cautious about lending large sums, but that the success of The History Center’s capital campaign made the loan a safe bet.
“We’re not granting money, we’re loaning money,” he said, adding “there’s substantial money coming in through grants.”
The legislature approved the loan by a vote of 12-1, with Legislator Shawna Black voting against it. Black said she was wary of The History Center’s ability to pay the county back, questioning its revenue stream and saying the county would be the last on the list of vendors to get paid.
Other legislators said their concerns were minimal, though, given that state grants will be paid out as reimbursements once construction is complete and that committed pledges are scheduled to be paid out over a three year period.
Legislator Mike Lane said the county has had good outcomes with similar loans in the past, adding “we’re certain this is going to be a success.”
Anna Kelles touted the renovation as a solid investment for the county and an environmentally-conscious addition to the Commons. “This is a gorgeous building and a very creative adaptive reuse, which means all of the concrete and steel in this building will not be going into a landfill.”
With bridge financing in place, the Tompkins Center for History and Culture is on track to open within weeks.
Featured image: A look from the inside of the Tomkins Center for History and Culture, where renovations are nearly complete. (Provided photo)