ITHACA, N.Y. — In a press release late last week, the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce announced that its waterfront headquarters had found a suitable buyer – and that buyer will be paying a pretty penny for that prime lakeshore location.

According to the press release, the buyer of 904 East Shore Drive is “Start of the Diamond LLC”, which is a limited-liability company led by property investor Steven Wells. Wells has bought and sold several properties on Ithaca’s West End in recent years.

County records indicate that the sale price for the property is $1.087 million, and for that Wells now owns 6,508 square-feet of newer office space on 1.13 acres. The sales price falls between the initial list price of $1.395 million, but still greater than the $890,000 value of the property as assessed by Tompkins County. Jill Burlington of Warren Real Estate served as the Chamber’s seller agent, which was initially put up for sale last September.

“I think we chose a very complicated time to put the building on the market. Things were pretty unpredictable last fall. But we went in with eyes wide open, given the pandemic and uncertainty related to commercial property sales. We had an initial substantial influx of interest, things slowed down in the holiday season, and then it picked up again in early 2021. There weren’t any specific challenges, we were happy to receive a qualified offer and were able to move forward with Mr. Wells,” said Jennifer Tavares, President and CEO of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce.

Image courtesy of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce.

The short-term plan is to continue renting the building out as-is for commercial office space, though the press release suggests other options are possible in the future. In a quote attributed to Wells in the sale announcement, “(t)he views of Cayuga Lake, the easy on and off access to Rt. 13, and the Cayuga Waterfront Trailhead (are) all within a stone’s throw, I’m not sure how it gets much better. While there are no immediate plans for 904 East Shore Drive, I’m incredibly excited about the possibilities, and I’m keeping an open mind to all options of what’s to come. The Town of Ithaca was extraordinarily receptive and has adopted the rezoning of this location to open the door for various uses. Additionally, I’m pleased (the) Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce will be remaining as a tenant until they find a suitable location.”

“I would definitely say generally that we are in a better position than we were in September, but there’s a lot that were still being cautious about. Many things related to the economy are still settling in and certain business categories were able to identify new opportunities and do well, while others are still in recovery. We are still seeing things across the membership, dealing with different economic circumstances, a different set of challenges than nine months ago, like workforce recovery and supply chains being unpredictable,” said Tavares.

“We’re cautiously optimistic but we also plan to be judicious with our resources while increasing our capacity from a staffing perspective. We were 20% laid off from April to September last year, so we’re still six months into our recovery, we didn’t have access to PPP (federal Paycheck Protection Plan forgivable loans). We see a lot of great signs and we’ll continue to utilize our resources the best we can.”

The Chamber of Commerce and the County Visitors’ Bureau (CVB) are continuing to examine new locations to lease for their use, a process which is expected to wrap up in the November-December time frame, with a move to a new location tentatively planned in the spring of 2022. The press release notes that they are working with a consultant and seeking the input of staff, members of its managing Board, and stakeholders such as businesses and government entities.

Tavares said the pandemic and the recovery have shaped the Chamber of Commerce’s thinking as it continues with the search process for a new long-term place for it and the CVB to call home. “I do think there’s a lot that’s still unpredictable in the next two, three, five years. We see a lot of interesting opportunities and we’re still to embark in the process of what size space and amenities that we have to have in office and nearby, such as parking and access to restaurants and parks. We’re going through some processes with our staff and board to prioritize what our needs are and will be looking at everything to suit our needs. The ability to work remote and flexible office space will be a part of that conversation. But we’ll always be partially staffed and available on-site, and we’ll still have staff in the community and at our visitor centers. We won’t just be at our offices and desks all the time, there will be continued community outreach and engagement.”

Keep an eye out for an update to be published later this year, when the Chamber of Commerce announces its new location.

Brian Crandall

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