ITHACA, N.Y. — To the victor go the spoils. In this case, the spoils are eight acres of prime waterfront property in the city of Ithaca. As for the winner, it’s a Horseheads-based developer who has already had their eye on the waterfront for some time.

Arnot Realty Corporation, also known as “Bidder #2”, was the winning bidder at yesterday’s auction for the 8.16-acre New York State Department of Transportation property at 683 Third Street.

For those who wish to see video of the auction, the state has uploaded it to the Office of General Services website here. As previously reported last month, the state decided to put the waterfront property up for auction now that the new regional DOT facility is nearly finished over on Warren Road in the town of Lansing. The site is assessed by the county to be worth $1.7 million, with most of that in the value of the land. Studies conducted on behalf of the county suggest an ambitious developer could pursue a much more valuable project on the site, thanks to favorable zoning and a desirable location in one of Upstate’s most economically prosperous counties.

To be eligible to bid, potential bidders had to complete a bidder pre-registration process, present valid government-issued identification, and provide a certified check or bank draft in the amount of $285,000 for proof of financial capacity. Nothing says “serious bids only” like a few hundred thousand dollars already laid on the table.

Four bidding teams attended the auction, their identities anonymous to the general public. As the auction began, with the state auctioneering opening bids at the $2.85 million minimum, Bidder #2, now known to be Arnot, went first with the $2.85 million initial bid. Bidder #3 followed with $2.86 million. Then Bidder #2 with $2.87 million, Bidder #3 with $2.88 million, and Bidder #1 with $2.89 million. So it went over the next half hour, often in $10,000 increments, the three teams trying to outbid their rivals in a rather leisurely pace. Whenever the state auctioneer said “going once,” another bidder was going just a little higher than the last. If you wanted the pace and verbal alacrity of an old-style tobacco auction, this was not your venue.

As the bids continued to climb, the auction came down to a financial battle between Bidder #2, and Bidder #4, exchanging top bids as the wagers blew past $3.5 million. Finally, the auctioneer hit $3.79 million with another bid from Bidder #2. The woman representing Bidder #4 checked her phone and sat quietly as the auctioneer said “going once…going twice…going for a third and final time.” With little fanfare, the auction was over, with Bidder #2’s $3.79 million bid, almost a full million above the opening offer.

Now, there’s nothing that says Bidder #2 had to say who they were once the auction wrapped up, and rumors quickly began to fly. But rumors weren’t necessary. In fact, one of the women on Bidder #2’s team was recently on a Zoom video presentation at a City of Ithaca Planning Board meeting. One email inquiry later, and Arnot responded with the following statement, attributed to President Peter Dugo:

“A few years ago, Arnot Realty began working on a goal of growing into the Ithaca Market and we feel that the DOT property offers a unique opportunity for us to continue working toward this goal. We are very excited to have the opportunity to acquire such an exceptional parcel on the waterfront, adjacent to the Ithaca Farmer’s Market and on the Waterfront Trail. As of today, we do not have any definitive plans regarding how to best redevelop the site, but will be using the next few months to discuss the possibilities with the multitude of stakeholders involved. Of course, one of the reasons this site is so interesting to us is its ability to accommodate a large number of future uses, and we look forward to exploring its potential.”

While no firm plans are available, Arnot’s clearly jumped into Ithaca with both feet. Their first major investment in Tompkins County was in 2017, when the firm bought a majority stake in the under-development 16-unit Boathouse Landing townhouse project at 323 Taughannock Boulevard. With Boathouse Landing completed, Arnot then purchased the former Bishop’s property on the 400 Block of West State Street late last year, and this summer introduced plans for ground-level retail and 129 apartments on the site. That project is currently making its way through the city Planning Board.

Brian Crandall

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