ITHACA, N.Y. — A local businesswoman has purchased a pair of properties in the city’s rapidly evolving waterfront area, a purchase that was years in the making.

This week, Elizabeth Classen Ambrose purchased a 7,030 square-foot commercial building at 704-06 West Buffalo Street, and a vacant neighboring parcel at 702.5 West Buffalo Street, with 0.37 acres between the pair. The properties were sold by Angelo and Elvira DiGiacomo to an LLC owned by Classen Ambrose for $900,000, well above the county’s $440,000 value.

Local residents may be familiar with the Classen name from their work in healthcare. Elizabeth is the founder and proprietor of the Bridges Cornell Heights senior living facility, and her sister Patty owns and operates Classen Home Health, a major local home care provider. They got their start in 1989 operating the home care business out of their parents’ home, and within a few months moved to a rental office

Elizabeth Classen at 704-06 West Buffalo Street, the property that Classen Ambrose just purchased.

“I was a 20-something. I had big hair, big earrings,” Classen Ambrose mused. “We had this cruddy little boat dock back then, we would go out on it at lunch. The rent was only $300/month. We grew very quickly, from four staff to 120 in 24 months. That’s where it all began for us.”

“We wanted to buy the property from Angelo and Molly, but they weren’t ready to sell at the time. But we stayed connected. We would run into each other at the boatyard, and I would joke and ask if he was ready to sell. One day, he asked if I was serious about that, and we made that (sale) happen.”

As for what’s in the works for the property? Well, Classen Ambrose started to make a pitch about the need for a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) franchise in Ithaca – after all, the building, with its distinctive roof, used to be a KFC decades ago. “It would be such a nostalgic place to bring a KFC, boaters could bring it out onto the docks…”

Then Classen Ambrose paused. “Did I get you with my joke? My late father used to say you need a good belly laugh once a day.”

More seriously, she made clear that at this time, there no firm plans yet for the property. “It will most likely become part of a bigger picture down there.”

Classen Ambrose and the developers of City Harbor recently announced that she was joining the project team as an investor, and so any “bigger picture” likely refers to plans being formulated to complement City Harbor over on Pier Road, whether reuse or a new build. “We’re examining things that would work there, what options might work there. We want it to be really spectacular and deserving of that property.”

Is that a KFC? Probably not. But should something hit the public record, we’ll keep you posted.

Brian Crandall

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