ITHACA, N.Y. — Generally speaking, the staff of the Voice are disinclined to repeat ourselves any more than is necessary. So the city of Ithaca had decided to make it necessary, by once again asking if there are parties interested in taking fire station No. 2 on East Hill off their hands.
The City of Ithaca has once again issued a Request For Expressions of Interest (RFEI) for the 50-year-old fire station at 309 College Avenue. As previously noted when the first RFEI was issued back in July 2018, an RFEI is basically to gauge interest, assessing if it would be worth the city’s effort of putting together and issuing a formal Request For Proposals (RFP). You could call an RFEI an RFP for RFPs; RFEIs are general statements, ballpark estimates and concept plans, while RFPs get into the nitty-gritty of measurements, timelines and cost estimates.
So what happened with the original RFEI? According to the city of Ithaca in this second issue, “circumstances did not allow for the progression of this project.” The problem is, time waits for no one, and the existing 9,676 square-foot East Hill fire station, which is now 53 years old, is in dire need of renovation or replacement. The city need to either commit to a renovation now and start planning the financing and logistics, or it needs to start working with another party on replacement plans as soon as possible.
The RFEI details three potential options with regards to the East Hill fire station site, though potential someone could come up with other options:
- Option one is building a new turn-key (fully complete) 11,000 square-foot two-truck bay fire station with the potential for a 1,300 square-foot community room as a potential add-on feature at an alternative site on East Hill, with preference to another College Avenue location or as close as possible. That would free up the existing site at 309 College Avenue for private development. Zoning at the site allows by code for a six-story, 80-foot tall building with 100% lot coverage, though other options could be explored with a Planned Unit Development, like what John Novarr and Phil Proujansky are pursuing for their Collegetown Innovation District megaproject.
- Option two is to retain the existing fire station, but sell the air rights. What that would mean is that the air space above the station could be sold to a developer next door, and the developer could either build higher on their site or cantilever over the fire station to increase their buildable square footage. The money from the sale of air rights would then be used to pay for some or all of the renovation costs to the fire station. Frankly, Collegetown Crossing to the south is already fully built out and owner Josh Lower is unlikely to be interested. That leaves the three neighboring parcels: two older apartment houses to the east owned by the Nestopoulos family, and the Nines parcel to the north, which is owned by Novarr and Proujansky, and is where they’re proposing a ten-story mixed-use building as part of their Innovation District.
- Option three is to incorporate a new fire station into the redevelopment of 309 College Avenue, which would require engine bays, ramps and apparatus storage spaces. This would be quite unusual, but isn’t totally unheard of.
The submission deadline is by 3 PM on Monday April 5th. A complete application will include a cover letter, a “project approach” document where the applicant provides a description on plans for the fire station and the site, payments and estimated costs to the city, and a detailed explanation of the applicant’s qualifications to undertake a major real estate project.
Once that date passes, the ball is in the city’s court. “The city intends to use responses from this RFEI to develop a plan of action for the East Hill Fire Station. Based on the quality of responses submitted, the city may decide to negotiate for a development project or may release a full Requests for Proposals for the development of the site.” We’ll see if the second time’s the charm.
Update: The city has amended the RFEI and updated the submission due date from Monday, March 1st to Monday, April 5th.