ITHACA, N.Y.—It was a difficult decision, but the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency has made its recommendation, narrowly scoring the Finger Lakes Development proposal by developers Steve Flash and Jeff Rimland as their preferred choice for the redevelopment of a city-owned parking lot on Inlet Island.

Those wanting a refresher on the scoring system can reference the Voice‘s April write-up here. Projects were scored on a combination of community benefits, project concept, financial capacity of the development team, and the financial terms of a deal with the City of Ithaca. The system was ranked choice, with the highest score the best. In this case, as there were three proposals, a “3” was the highest score a proposal could achieve, where it was then weighted by a multiplication factor.

In this era of COVID-driven livestreamed meetings, a recording of the latest IURA EDC meeting can be found here. After multiple meetings, additional presentations by the development teams and review of follow-up questions, the committee, consisting of Doug Dylla, Charlotte Hamilton and Chair Chris Proulx (member Leslie Ackerman was absent, unable to take part due to a conflict of interest), named Finger Lakes Development the top scorer with 760 points, followed closely by Waterfront Alchemy’s (developer Lincoln Morse’s) plans with 710 points. The Visum Development Group proposal scored 330 points.

“(T)he Finger Lakes Development is tight, actually deficient (in parking),” said Mark Campagnolo, owner of the Boatyard Grill at the northern tip of Inlet Island, after lambasting the other two proposals in the public comment segment. “But unlike a hotel chain or mammoth parking garage, it is something that can be worked out amongst all the players, I feel, and hopefully without disrupting much of Inlet Island (…) I’m strongly supporting the Finger Lakes (Development Group) project, as it’s not trying to put a five-gallon project in a two-quart container.”

The $40.19 million Finger Lakes Development plan consists of two five-story buildings, called “the Stays,” a 78-90 bed extended-stay ‘hometel’ concept, and “the Anchor,” would be developed in partnership with INHS and provide 50-56 affordable housing units (30-120 percent area median income, but mostly in the 50-60 percent AMI range). The Finger Lakes Boating Center would be retained, its roof outfitted with solar panels to create a renewable energy-generating “microgrid” on Inlet Island. A new pedestrian bridge will link the Inlet Island site to the proposed Agora neighborhood, and parking facilities would be shared with the Agora project. An extended and improved Cayuga Waterfront Trail would wrap around the north side of the Inlet and provided green space includes picnic lawns, a dog park, a playground for young children, and public seating. The existing Coast Guard Auxiliary building would remain in place and be improved to serve boaters and provide educational programming. There are 225 parking spaces included on-site as part of the mixed-use development.

“The hometel is less expensive than a hotel, and offers people, whether locals who want to do a staycation and be closer to the water, the Finger Lakes Boating Center where they can rent a boat or a kayak, gives them a getaway but still in town for less than a hotel there,” said developer Steve Flash. “I’ve spoken to the Coast Guard Auxiliary, they understand change is coming. We intend to acquire the building itself, but we’d like them to continue their education and safety classes in the building, as well as the dock, their program, their boats there. We hope to continue to operate that, continue their exposure and promote safety on the water.”

“Every one of these projects has huge community benefit in a variety of different ways (…) the issue that I have with ranking these is that I’m a nominated volunteer, not an elected official, so I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to actually rank them, so I’m giving them each a ‘2’ (…) for Community Benefits. We’re here to weigh in on the concept, the financial feasibility and the terms, but (for Community Benefits) I don’t think that it’s appropriate for me and how I approach the committee,” said Hamilton.

“I thought Finger Lakes Development had the strongest community benefits,” said Dylla. Chair Proulx agreed. “I had the same scoring as Doug (Dylla). It was the mix and scale of the development for Finger Lakes Development that put it slightly above the rest for me in that category.”

On ‘Project Concept’ though, Dylla, saying it was quite close, gave Waterfront Alchemy his top score, while Hamilton gave Finger Lakes Development her top score, describing it as ‘the broadest concept with the most flexibility’. Proulx said he wrestled with the question, and although he liked Waterfront alchemy’s idea of a destination space, he liked the slightly less intense use and affordable housing in Finger Lakes Development’s proposal, and gave that a ‘3’.

All three gave Waterfront Alchemy their top score for Financial Capacity and Project Feasibility. Proulx said its emphasis on private financing was a deciding factor – local and state affordable housing grants would be needed for the INHS portion of the Finger Lakes Development proposal, which is an extra hurdle to getting the project built as intended.

Lastly, for Financial Terms (financial agreements and benefits for the city of Ithaca), Dylla cited future tax revenue as his reason to place Waterfront Alchemy with top ranking, while Hamilton gave Finger Lakes her top rank because they were paying the higher price upfront ($1.585 million after remediation is accounted for, vs. $1 million minus yet-to-be-calculated remediation costs for Waterfront Alchemy). Proulx’s ranking was the same as Hamilton’s, as he placed less weight on long-term projections due to inherently greater uncertainties further out in the future.

Dylla realized his ranking placed Waterfront Alchemy highest, but acknowledged both were strong proposals, saying INHS’s inclusion likely put Finger Lakes Development over the top. “Hopefully this design will be strengthened, but both of these proposals are very close, I’d feel comfortable recommending either one of them at this stage.”

It should be noted that the Economic Development Committee’s recommendation is just that—it is not the final word. The full IURA board could still choose any of the three options at their June 24th meeting, when it officially names the preferred developer. The Common Council then weighs in, and could technically name their own preferred choice if so compelled, and approves the land transfer to the IURA for sale to the preferred developer in July (Planning Committee) and August (full Council). The developer and the IURA enter an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement for sale of the land in August, with site plan review in the fall and potentially any of the developers could begin work by early next year.

Brian Crandall

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